Laying Down a Solid “Iron Foundation”: Professor Erica Baker

Erica Baker (2018)

A dedication to Erica Baker will appear in an upcoming Special Issue of Biochimica et Biophysica Acta specifically on cellular and molecular mechanisms of iron metabolism. The dedication, written by Des Richardson, is posted in its entirety below.


 This special issue of Biochim. Biophys. Acta is devoted to the study of the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in iron metabolism. It is especially dedicated in memory of Professor Erica Baker (Figure 1) of the Department of Physiology, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia. 

Erica was a true pioneer in the field of cellular iron metabolism, having contributed substantially to the understanding of the role of endocytosis in the internalization of iron from transferrin in erythroid cells and hepatocytes. She was a co-worker of Winthrop Professor Evan Morgan in seminal studies that have had a lasting influence in understanding cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in iron metabolism.

As a pertinent example of Erica’s studies is the reprint in this issue of a landmark article that was originally published in Biochim. Biophys Acta in 1969, which examined whether the mechanism of iron uptake from transferrin was energy-dependent using metabolic inhibitors [1]. At the time, and even for many years later [2, 3], there was much controversy as to whether iron was released at the cell surface, or was actively transported into cells via an energy-dependent mechanism involving receptor-mediated endocytosis after transferrin became bound to the transferrin receptor 1. 

Studies by Erica and Evan were landmarks in the field, and unlike others who used cell lines of doubtful physiological significance, they implemented primary cultures of physiologically-relevant cell-types (reticulocytes and hepatocytes) to define the role of endocytosis in iron and transferrin uptake. In later years, her attention turned to the development of iron chelators for the treatment of iron-loading diseases and cancer [4, 5]. As such, her investigations have contributed to a burgeoning field in pharmacological research assessing chelators for the treatment of neoplasia and other diseases.

Erica received First Class Honours in Physiology and her PhD degree in 1970. She then spent her post-doctoral career at Kings College, London, working with eminent scientists in the field, including Professors E. Huehns and A. Tavill. She returned to the University of Western Australia in 1978 to a highly prestigious appointment as one of few National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Fellows in Perth.

Significantly, Erica was funded continuously by the NHMRC for 28 years until her retirement in 2007, by which time she was an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow. Apart from being a passionate and dedicated research scientist, she was an incredible friend and mentor, who supported the development of many careers in the field, including my own.

Unfortunately, Erica was afflicted by a crippling neurological condition, which she fought bravely for many years, while raising three highly successful children, and continuing her research work at the very highest level.  

The current special issue serves as a tribute to her pioneering achievements and outstanding mentorship in the field that has laid down a solid, “iron foundation”, for others to build upon.

Des R. Richardson B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc. (UWA), F.F.Sc., FRCPath (UK)
Professor of Cancer Cell Biology,
NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow
Director, Molecular Pharmacology and Pathology Program
Leader, Cancer Cell Biology and Development Theme, Bosch Institute
Medical Foundation Building (K25), 92-94 Parramatta Rd, Level 2, Room 253
University of Sydney,
Sydney, New South Wales, 2006, Australia
Ph: +61-2-9036-3026


  1. Morgan, E.H. and Baker, E. (1969) The effect of metabolic inhibitors on transferrin and iron uptake and transferrin release from reticulocytes. Biochim. Biophys. Acta. 184:442-54.
  2. Baker, E. (1977) In: Iron metabolism, Ciba Foundation Symposium 51, New Series, p367, Elsevier, Exerpta Medica, North Holland, Amsterdam.
  3. Richardson, D.R. and Baker, E. (1994) Two saturable mechanisms of iron uptake from transferrin in human melanoma cells. The effect of transferrin concentration, chelators and metabolic probes on transferrin and iron uptake. J. Cell. Physiol. 161: 160-168.
  4. Baker, E., Richardson, D.R., Gross, S. and Ponka, P. (1992) Evaluation of the iron chelation potential of hydrazones of pyridoxal, salicylaldehyde and 2-hydroxy-1-naphthylaldehyde using the hepatocyte in culture. Hepatology 15: 492-501.
  5. Richardson, D.R., Ponka, P. and Baker, E. (1994) The effect of the iron(III) chelator, desferrioxamine, on iron and transferrin uptake by the human malignant melanoma cell. Cancer Res. 54: 685-689.


Erica Baker
Figure 1: Professor Erica Baker in the cell culture suite at the Department of Physiology, University of Western Australia.