In Memoriam – Anna Steinberger  1928-2024

Barbara M. Sanborn, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, Colorado State University and University of Texas McGovern Medical School, Houston

Dolores J. Lamb, Ph.D., HCLD (ABB), CC (NRCC) Associate Dean (Faculty Affairs, Robert S. Dow Professor of Urology, Director, Center for Reproductive Genomics, Weill Cornel Medicine, New York, NY

The reproductive endocrinology and andrology communities are saddened by the death of Anna Steinberger, Ph.D., a prolific scientific pioneer, able administrator, strong supporter of trainees, advocate for tolerance and a female role model for almost 96 years.  Born in Poland, Anna Schneider and her family fled the Nazi invasion east through Russia , ending up in a Soviet Gulag in Kazakhstan, where she met her future husband, Emil Steinberger, M.D. (first President of American Society of Andrology).  Both families survived extremely difficult conditions and made their way to a Displaced Persons camp in Germany after World War II, where Emil and Anna began medical studies that were interrupted by visas which allowed them to move to the US.

Anna took a circuitous route to her PhD, typical of paths facing many women. While Emil was obtaining an MD at the Univ of Iowa, Anna juggled a job, gave birth to 2 children and completed an MS in Microbiology.  She worked in various laboratory settings during subsequent family moves, but only when Emil finished his Navy obligation and started a residency in Detroit was Anna was able to pursue her PhD in Microbiology at Wayne State Univ.  Anna carried out academic research at Albert Einstein School of Medicine and then University of Texas Medical School Houston, where she blazed a path for female faculty. Indeed, she was the first and only female faculty member at the institution when it first opened.  In her research, she pioneered the development and use of testicular and pituitary in vitro organ and individual cell culture systems to study control of these systems.  She was a world-renowned expert on Sertoli cell function and the first to describe Sertoli cell secretions that affected pituitary function.  She was a leader in the field for her studies on Inhibin which acted on the pituitary to inhibit FSH secretion.  She is perhaps most famous for her testicular culture systems that focused on spermatogenesis in vitro- work that is still widely quoted in the literature.  In her prolific career she trained a large cadre of fellows and students, and she worked endlessly to promote the careers of many, introducing them to field leaders and nominating them for awards.  We (BMS and DJL) both benefited from that support.   Anna served as President of the American Association of Andrology in 1986 and received the 1983 Distinguished Andrologist Award in recognition for her many contributions to the Society and the field. She was a champion of women in science and funded an ASA travel fund for female trainees and a trainee award at UT Houston.  She received the 2006  Women in Endocrinology Mentor Award from the Endocrine Society, was first honorary member of the Polish Andrology Society, and received the Medal of Honor from the Jagellonian University, the Women in Science Silver Professional Achievement Award, and the Outstanding Women of Excellence Award from the Federation of Houston Professional Society. On a personal level, Anna loved sailing and skiing and hosted many a gathering for professional and personal friends and colleagues.

In semi-retirement, Anna served as Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at University of Texas Medical School Houston.  She offered insightful advice and counsel to those who sought it.  In later years, she was very active at the Holocaust Museum as a docent and as a speaker to school age students, encouraging them to be steadfast in overcoming obstacles to follow their dreams, as she had. She participated in writing tolerance curriculum for Texas high schools. She organized science talks at her senior residence, encouraged the formation of a resident’s council, and delighted in showing visitors the many notes of appreciation she received from students inspired by her talks.  Anna was a talented and innovative scientist and colleague, a devoted wife and mother, and a dedicated humanitarian.  She will be missed but her example of wisdom and tenacity in the face of adversity and her ability to find joy at every stage of her life has influenced all who knew her.