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Biomolecular chemist Paul J. Bertics dies at 55

December 26, 2011 By Dian Land

Biomolecular chemist Paul J. Bertics, a member of the School of Medicine and Public Health faculty, died unexpectedly at home on Thursday, Dec. 22 at age 55.

Photo: Paul J. Bertics


The school community of faculty, staff and students widely regarded Bertics as a special person.

“His dedication and loyalty to his students, colleagues and school was legendary,” said Robert N. Golden, dean of the school. “His smile and good humor immediately lit up any room he entered.”

Bertics was a top-tier researcher based in the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry, an educator who taught all levels of students and a long-time leader on the school’s admissions committee.

A humble man, he often said he was honored to be able to participate in the selection of future generations of physicians. He was chair of the admissions committee when he died.

Bertics joined the UW faculty in 1986 and was the Kellett Professor of Biomolecular Chemistry at his death. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, serving as leader of the Cancer Cell Biology Program, and co-director in the Material Sciences Research Center in the School of Engineering.

The Bertics research program focused on understanding the regulation of cell proliferation and function by growth factors, cytokines and bacterial toxins. The work had direct application to understanding the events that are involved in the development of cancer as well as the mechanisms associated with the immune response generated following bacterial infections. His work was supported most recently by five National Institutes of Health grants and a National Science Foundation grant.

The quality of his research earned Bertics the Inbusch Award for Meritorious Research, the Eli Lilly Biochemistry Award and the Kellett Award. Early in his career he was given the March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award and a Shaw Scholar Award from the Milwaukee Foundation.

Bertics was a member of several editorial boards and major grant review panels and served on international grant review panels,  including the Arthritis Research Campaign (UK), the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, the Wellcome Trust (UK), the Medical Research Council (UK) and the Alberta Herit McCafferty Grant Program (Canada).

As an educator, Bertics taught extensively at the undergraduate, graduate and medical school levels. His teaching ability was widely praised. He was given the UW Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award and many School of Medicine and Public Health awards, including the student-selected Teaching Award, the Distinguished Teaching Award, the Dean’s Teaching Award and the Medical Student Association Pacemaker Award For Teaching Excellence (twice).

Bertics served his school and university in many additional ways. He was chair of the UW Biological Sciences Divisional Executive Committee, the WARF Fellowship Committee, the UW Distinguished Teaching Awards Committee and the Medical School Research Committee, among many others.

A native of California, Bertics earned his bachelor’s degree in 1978 from the University of California, Los Angeles and his Ph.D. in 1984 from UW–Madison. Before joining the UW faculty, he did post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Diego.

Bertics was an avid fisherman who knew all the best trout streams in Dane County. He and his wife, Sandy, canoed the Boundary Waters each summer. He liked gardening and clearing wood from the two acres of trees on his property.

He played guitar since his high school days, and continued to play until his death. He was extremely interested in electronics. In recent years he had taken up restoring tube radios to perfect working condition. He joked that he could always fall back on refurbishing old radios if the science thing didn’t work out.

For more on Bertics’ life and the scheduled services, click here.