Bruce Cunningham, former Rockefeller professor, dies at 77
Cell biologist Bruce Cunningham, who had been a Rockefeller professor and co-head of lab with Gerald M. Edelman for more than 20 years, died in March at the age of 77. Cunningham was at Rockefeller from 1966 to 1992 and was retired from The Scripps Research Institute, where he had been a professor in the department of neurobiology.
Born in Winnebago, Illinois, Cunningham earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Dubuque and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Yale University. He first joined Edelman’s Laboratory of Developmental and Molecular Biology as a postdoctoral fellow. Cunningham and Edelman, who won the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his studies of the chemical structure of antibodies, remained collaborators for the next 46 years.
In the Edelman lab, Cunningham and his colleagues identified the first amino acid sequence of a complete antibody protein, a key finding for understanding how the immune system functions and the genetic basis of antibody diversity. Later, Cunningham and his colleagues determined the amino acid sequence of concanavalin A, a sugar-binding plant protein that can induce cell division, and collaborated with George N. Reeke Jr., associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Biological Modeling, along with Joseph W. Becker, then an associate professor, to determine the three-dimensional structure of con A.
In the 1980s, the lab, which by then had become the Edelman–Cunningham laboratory, began to focus on cell adhesion molecules, or CAMs, which play an important role in cell–cell interactions throughout life, beginning with the formation of the embryo. Over the next three decades, which included a move in 1992 for both Cunningham and Edelman to The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, their work helped reveal the structures of several CAMs and identify their roles in regulating cellular processes.
Cunningham retired from Scripps in 2012. He is survived by his wife, Katrina, his children Douglas Cunningham and Jennifer Saam, and his four grandchildren.