people are lucky if they find a profession that they love.
But to find a profession and the partner of their dreams…well,
that must be like winning the lottery.
Drs. Elaine and Myron, or Mike, Jacobson won two of life’s
big sweepstakes—the “What Will I Do With My Life?” game
and the “Who Will Be My Partner?” challenge. Not only
were they able to pursue the careers of their dreams, they were
able to pursue those careers together.
Mike is a professor of medicinal chemistry in the department of
pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Arizona, a professor
in the Bio5 Institute, and a researcher for the Arizona Cancer
Institute. Elaine is also a professor of pharmacology and toxicology,
a professor in the Bio5 Institute, and a researcher with the Arizona
Cancer Center. Both have written more than 100 articles about their
research, published in such prestigious journals as “Science” and
the “International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology.”
Their life together began in the lab at Kansas State University.
She was a lab technician and he was a graduate student putting
together his first research project. He noticed her and realized, “I
had to act fast,” he recalled. “At that time Elaine
had been accepted to medical school.” He asked her to be
a lab assistant over the summer and over that time they got to
know each other.
They were both from similar hard-working farming backgrounds;
he from a family of Norwegian extraction in Wisconsin, she from
Swedish immigrant family in Kansas. But both, after watching
their parents scrape to get by, knew one thing: Green Acres as
place to be.
And the only thing wrong with that life was all of that 18-hour-a-day
hard work, but no guaranteed income,” Elaine explained, with
the slightest trace of a Swedish accent. “I would listen
to my parents wonder…they had income once a year from the
sale of their beef cattle, and there would be years when the number
was a negative number. I listened to that all I could handle. I
wanted to do something different.”
Mike still owns his family’s dairy farm in Wisconsin and
his 91-year-old mother still lives a nearby town. The farm is a
getaway for the couple, but not their bread and butter.
Elaine chose biochemistry as her undergraduate major and Mike
decided on biochemistry as a field of graduate study. He chose
Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. There he encountered
the pretty lab technician.
So we got married the summer after I got my BS.” Elaine said.
That was 1967. Mike had a fellowship from NASA with a “huge” salary
of $200 a month, stemming from the Space Race of the 1950s and
1960s. The Russians had launched Sputnik and the U.S. government
launched programs for training scientists. “How Sputnik related
to biochemistry is not at all clear,” he said.
Both agreed that their respective parents never really understood
what their children were doing but they were always supportive
of their efforts.
You will go to college as long as you want to, but we can’t
help you with money,” Elaine paraphrased her parents. And,
just in case this whole science thing fell through, her parents
strongly recommended that she take typing and short-hand because
they said, “Being able to use that typewriter is going to
earn you a living!”
They don’t realize that I use that keyboard 12 to 18 hours
a day,” she said, laughing. “So it was a very valuable
After they both got their Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry, they
were off to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and the
and Foundation in Rochester, Minn., for post-doctoral work
in cell and molecular biology.
they both got their Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry, they were
off to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and the Mayo
Clinic and Foundation in Rochester, Minn., for post-doctoral
work in cell and molecular biology.
At the Mayo Clinic, they started the research that they continue
to this day. At the core of this work is an understanding
of molecular and cellular responses to stress, particularly
the stress of
UV radiation from the sun on skin cells. They have strived
to translate their work into effective treatments for skin
of their research into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide
(NAD) metabolism led to the founding of their company Niadyne,
named because NAD is a derivative of niacin. Previously,
were only available from dermatologists, but soon the products
will be distributed to the public via Nia24.com. And a third
company is in the works pending clinical trials on another
While they used to have hobbies like traveling, golf, tennis,
and music, now the company is an all-encompassing hobby. “In
reality we have two full-time jobs,” Elaine explained. But
it’s not all drudgery. In May, they will visit Europe
to attend the wedding of a former student and check on
of their new product.
But where did two farm-kids get the idea they could pursue
a career in science, much less be big-time scientists? Both
to the possibilities of science from chemistry teachers.
How did those teachers get their attention?
The instructor’s love for the topic, his insight to see that
I had connected with chemistry, and the way he conducted himself
and his life was really inspiring to me,” Elaine said. Dwayne
Pickett taught all of the science classes in Elaine’s rural
Kansas high school and volunteered as the school’s assistant
football, track and basketball coach. Long before running became
as ubiquitous as it is today, her teacher was out running six to
10 miles every morning then coming to work day and night at the
school. “To me, that discipline, of all the additional things
he did in his life…was something I aspired to.”
After showing that he was someone she could believe in,
he showed that he believed in his pupil and pushed her
Elaine and Mike agree that anyone can pursue this line
of work, that it doesn’t take a particular gift for science. “I
think there are rare exceptions where people fall into a talent
maybe like painting, or playing the piano by ear, but I don’t
believe it’s a “natural” thing. It’s
a matter of learning and being stimulated to learn. In
fact I think
that I could have been among the students who might have
been a difficult learner because I have a bit of dyslexia,
and the way
I learn required a little bit more effort, yes, but you
compensate with time or approach.”
Mike was inspired by Alice Keegan, a chemistry teacher
need to teach. Her husband was a successful attorney, Mike said,
but Keegan apparently had the need to show these high school students
the world of science. Three of the people in her chemistry class
went into science as a profession, Mike said. The next year, the
home economics teacher took over the chemistry class and none of
them went into science. “I’m not sure who the lucky
ones are,” he joked. He reflected on the importance
of these teachers in their budding careers.
I think that is very much what drives us at all levels,” Mike
said. “We have the joy, really, of challenging students at
many levels…So that’s kind of our pay-back
to those teachers.”