Five UCSF faculty scientists elected to National Academy of Sciences

Five faculty scientists at UCSF have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, considered one of the highest honors for an American scientist. The new elections bring to 30 the number of UCSF faculty who are members of the Academy.

The new UCSF members are: Cornelia I. Bargmann, PhD, professor and vice chair of anatomy and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCSF; John D. Baxter, MD, professor of medicine in the UCSF Diabetes Center; Cynthia J. Kenyon, PhD, the Herbert Boyer Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics and director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology Aging; Robert M. Stroud, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics and of pharmaceutical chemistry; and Arthur Weiss, MD, PhD, Ephraim P. Engleman Distinguished Professor in Rheumatology, chief of the division of rheumatology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UCSF

All five have appointments in the UCSF School of Medicine. Stroud also has an appointment in the School of Pharmacy.

The new members were elected to the prestigious Academy for their “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”

Cornelia Bargmann studies how genetics and development of the nervous system contribute to specific behaviors. Focusing on olfaction, or the sense of smell in the tiny nematode known as C. elegans, her research has clarified the specific neurons and the specific mechanisms within these neurons that allow the worm to discriminate between different odors in its environment. She has also examined the genetic regulation of social behavior in the worms, and recently identified for the first time a molecule that directs neurons to form connections with each other during an animal’s early development - creating synapses essential to all behavior.

John Baxter is an expert on the endocrine system and metabolism. In 1979, he cloned the gene for human growth hormone, which later was only the second genetically engineered product to receive government approval. His research seeks to understand how receptors in the nucleus of a cell affect human health and disease. His focus has been on the function of the thyroid hormone receptor and the use of thyroid hormone-like compounds to treat obesity and cholesterol disorders. He is working on “selective thyroid hormone receptor modulators,” or STRMS, that facilitate the beneficial effects of the thyroid hormone while avoiding dangerous side effects.

Cynthia Kenyon studies the genetics of aging.  She made international news when she discovered that blocking the activity of a single gene in the roundworm C. elegans doubled the animal’s lifespan. The gene, known as daf-2, encodes a receptor for insulin as well as for a hormone called insulin-like growth factor. The same or related hormone pathways have since been shown to affect lifespan in fruit flies and mice, and therefore are likely to control lifespan in humans as well. At UCSF’s new Mission Bay campus, she will direct the new Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging. The center supports research on the biology of aging as well as research programs in diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and eye disorders.

Robert Stroud seeks to understand molecular mechanisms of key biological processes, as well as the signaling between processes within the cell. His research focuses on how signals cross membranes and how membrane proteins and channels within membranes work at the level of atomic structure. His laboratory also develops methods to quantify the relationship between bonding affinity and molecular structure. Targets for drug design include HIV integrase and drugs to combat resistance in HIV protease.

Arthur Weiss is an authority on the mechanisms by which the immune system’s T cells are activated. He is interested in understanding how T cell receptors initiate the cascade of chemical changes that provide the T cell-regulating signals, which play a prominent role in autoimmune diseases. T cells are not activated by stimulation of the receptors stimulation alone, and he also studies signals involving interactions between molecules on an antigen presenting cell and T cells. CD28, a T cell transmembrane protein that binds to molecules expressed on B cells and macrophages, initiates an unidentified signaling event which may activate genes that regulate lymphokine activity. His laboratory seeks to identify the events involved in CD28 signaling and their relative importance in T cell differentiation/activation.
The five UCSF scientists are among 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 11 countries elected at the 14th annual meeting of the Academy. 

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists, established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln. It serves as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.

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