The Schaeffers: Generations of Involvement

Harold and Adele Schaeffer may not be related by blood to the Wistars, but they are very important members of the Wistar family – supporting the Institute financially as well as through their participation. Adele, who serves on boards of many of Philadelphia’s most esteemed institutions, has been a member of Wistar’s board since 1988 and chairs the Development committee.

 She also chaired all the Wistar Galas since 1994, which have honored individuals who have been instrumental in ensuring the continuing vitality of the Institute: Robert A. Fox, Doris Taxin, Kevin M. Tucker, Harold M. Davis, and Ira Brind. Thus, it is fitting that in 2011, it will be Adele who is honored at the Gala, where she will be the sixth person to receive the Wistar Award.

 “Learning about Wistar has been totally fascinating,” said Adele Schaeffer. “Not only for what they have accomplished in the past, but also just knowing what the researchers are aiming to do now.”

She said she is particularly interested in the work of Emmanuel Skordalakes, Ph.D., who since coming to Wistar only a few years ago as an assistant professor in the Gene Expression and Regulation Program, has made major advances in understanding one of the most fundamental aspects of cell division and cellular aging — how structures called telomeres, found on the tips of chromosomes, and an enzyme called telomerase prevent the ends of chromosomes from fraying or recombining with other chromosomes. This process is critical in both cancer and aging, so understanding the complex pathways and how they go awry in diseases could lead to the development of powerful new therapies.

“This research, and other research at Wistar, has ramifications for so many people,” she said. “I am a tremendous advocate for spreading the word about Wistar because it’s been such a hidden secret in Philadelphia.”

Schaeffer’s fascination with Wistar apparently rubbed off on her son. “I’ve always had an interest in science, and some of the things I would hear about from my mother were intriguing,” said Jim Schaeffer.

Thus, when Wistar established the Leadership Council in 2007, he was one of the first people invited to join. Comprised of business and community leaders in the Philadelphia region, members of the Leadership Council complement the activities of the Board of Trustees by serving on subcommittees and acting as ambassadors of the Institute. For example, the Council sponsors a number of public events, such as the Nikon Small World opening reception, that open the doors of Wistar to the broader community.

Like his mother, Jim Schaeffer is excited about Skordalakes’ work, particularly after visiting his lab and getting a close-up view of the research he is doing. “My involvement started with my mother, and it’s nice to continue the relationship that’s been going on here for so many years,” he said. “It’s important to have the continuity.”