NEI’s Wiggert Retires from Long Career in Science
By Linda Huss
Dr. Barbara Wiggert, acting chief of NEI’s Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology, recently retired after 30 years of government service, all with NEI. She says it’s time to move on to another chapter of her life.
She earned her B.A. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1959. For the next 4 years, she attended Harvard University, division of medical sciences, where she earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry. She then returned to Wisconsin as a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the UW Medical School. In 1965, Wiggert moved to Massachusetts with her husband and children and in 1969, the Wiggerts moved to Colesville, Md., where they reared their three daughters and one son.
Wiggert joined NEI’s Laboratory of Vision Research as a part-time guest worker in 1972. After 3 years, she began working full-time in the lab and spent the next 11 years serving as a postdoctoral fellow, staff fellow and research chemist. In 1986, she joined the Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology as a section chief, and in 1997, she became the acting chief of the lab, where she spent her time until her retirement.
“I enjoyed the science immensely,” she said. “It was a joy to work in a scientific community where I was given the freedom to explore new areas in scientific fields that were so interesting and rewarding.”
Wiggert’s areas of research have included: Gene expression and the regulation of gene expression in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and the identification of a new gene, NORPEG and its protein, which may play an important role in RPE cell structure and formation; molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of fenretinide, a synthetic compound similar to the form of vitamin A that is integral to the visual cycle process; and the effect of acute, intense light on the rat retina.
“I appreciate being able to look back on a wonderful career that allowed me to stay home with my children when they were young and then to return to the research that I love,” she said. “Now I will direct my attention to my children and seven grandchildren.” She enjoys living in Annapolis east of the Severn River and having time for gardening and volunteer work and attending classical music events. She also plans a visit to London where her son, daughter-in-law and grandson live.
A symposium honoring Wiggert was held at Bldg. 60 on Nov. 9. The title was IRBP: A Journey Toward Understanding the Retina. Many guests spoke, including Wiggert’s former supervisor Dr. Gerald J. Chader, who is now a professor in the department of ophthalmology at Keck Medical School in Los Angeles. His talk was titled, The LRCMB: Contributions of Dr. Barbara Wiggert.