Above: From left, Alan Rockwood, PhD'1981 and Brenda Suh-Lailam, PhD’2011, are recipients of the USU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s 2020 Alumni Achievement Awards. Photos, Rockwood, ARUP Labs, Suh-Lailam, Janice Terry, Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Alumni Achievement Awards - 2020
After a hiatus, the department is pleased to announce resumption of the Alumni Achievement Award program, with a new development.
“In the past, we’ve named one award recipient at a time,” says Department Head Lance Seefeldt, “This year, we’re excited to name a senior award recipient, recognizing an individual who is completing a long and distinguished career, as well as a junior award recipient, who is an emerging leader in our field.”
2020 recipients are Alan L. Rockwood PhD’1981, Chemistry, Professor Clinical Emeritus, University of Utah School of Medicine, Scientific Director for Mass Spectrometry at ARUP Laboratories and Diplomate American Board of Clinical Chemistry and Brenda B. SuhLailam, PhD’2011, Director of Clinical Chemistry and Point-of-Care Testing, Ann and Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Associate Professor of Pathology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Interestingly, the two were colleagues for a time, as Suh-Lailam completed a postgraduate fellowship at ARUP Labs. Both are now involved, in varying degrees, in the global battle against COVID-19: Suh-Lailam in supervision of testing techniques and Rockwood, as a pioneer in spectrometry.
Mass spectrometry is arguably the most important analytical spectroscopic tool of modern times and its ability to characterize a wide variety of biomolecules has revolutionized biological research, along with forensics and drug development. Many advances in “mass spec” can be traced to USU alum Alan Rockwood.
Awarded the 2020 Distinguished Contribution Award by the Association for Mass Spectrometry and Advances in the Clinical Lab, Rockwood holds more than 16 patents, has at least eight patents pending and has authored more than 150, often-cited, peer-reviewed papers.
“Mass spectrometry is versatile tool for many challenges,” says Rockwood, who counts E.A. McCullough, Garth Lee, Chris Coray, Karen and Joe Morse and William Moore among his most influential USU mentors.
Among Rockwood’s classmates were Carl Wittwer, PhD‘1982, and Ted Mifflin, PhD’1983, who would become life-long colleagues, as well as undergraduate David Bahler, son of USU Biology Professor Tom Bahler, who became a physician.
“I had the privilege of experiencing Utah’s three major universities – BYU as an undergrad, USU as a graduate student and the U during my professional life,” Rockwood says. “Among the three, USU is the most student-oriented.” Suh-Lailam entered USU in 2004, after earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Buea in Cameroon. With faculty mentor Joanie Hevel, Suh-Lailam studied protein functions, including an enzyme called PRMT1 (Protein Arginine Methyltransferase I) that plays a role in cardiovascular health.
“One of the best decisions I ever made was to join Joanie Hevel’s lab,” says Suh-Lailam. “She made a huge impact on me. She was tough and structured, but allowed us to pursue creativity in research. She introduced us to literature and trained us to be researchers. She pushed us, but gave us important guidance and helped us think about our future careers. I never felt alone at USU.”
Suh-Lailam also credits Hevel with helping her develop important leadership and management skills, which propelled her to her current position, in which she oversees multiple areas.
“My position is tri-fold,” says the board-certified clinical chemist. “I’m director of the hospital’s lab, which includes primary oversight of the lab’s testing, including quality assurance, accuracy, assessing new tests and adhering to government and accreditation standards.”
Suh-Lailam also consults with physicians and teaches medical students, residents, fellows and medical technology students. In addition, she conducts research.
“It’s very fulfilling,” she says. “I enjoy trouble-shooting and solving puzzles.”
She says her experiences at USU prepared her well for professional challenges, including the current pandemic.
“I’m responsible for making sure our hospital’s testing is accurate and effective, and that means constantly adjusting to changing conditions and techniques,” Suh-Lailam says. “Pediatric patients are different from adult patients and no two tests are the same.”
Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Public Relations Specialist