The American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS) has elected four members of the UCSF faculty as fellows of one of the nation’s top honorary societies.
The four new fellows from UCSF are:
- Abul Abbas, MBBS, professor and chair of the Department of Pathology, UCSF School of Medicine;
- Nancy Adler, PhD, professor of medical psychology, UCSF School of Medicine, and director of the Center for Health and Community;
- David Agard, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, UCSF School of Medicine; and
- Patrick O’Farrell, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, UCSF School of Medicine.
Abbas, Adler, Agard and O’Farrell are among the leaders in the sciences, humanities and arts, business, public affairs and the nonprofit sector to be named among 210 new AAAS fellows and 19 foreign honorary members.
“These remarkable men and women have made singular contributions to their fields and to the world,” said AAAS President Emilio Bizzi, MD, PhD. “By electing them as members, the academy honors them and their work – and they, in turn, honor us.”
The new class will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 10 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Abbas is recognized internationally for his research on cell interactions in the immune system and diseases of the immune system. His research focuses on activation and tolerance of T lymphocytes, the immune cells that include CD4+ T cells, which recruit other cells in the immune army. He is particularly interested in understanding the natural controls of the immune response to reduce the likelihood of autoimmune diseases.
Adler’s notable research spans two areas. One area is focused on the impact of socioeconomic status on health. As director of the MacArthur Research Network on Socioeconomic Status (SES) and Health, she examines how social, psychological and biological factors associated with SES act together to determine the onset and progression of disease. Adler also is examining how the relationship of SES and health may differ, depending on gender and ethnicity.
Her second area of research focuses on health behaviors, investigating why individuals engage in health-damaging behaviors and how their understanding of risk affects their choices. This research has primarily been in reproductive health, examining adolescent decisionmaking regarding contraception, conscious and preconscious motivation for pregnancy, and perception of risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Agard’s research aims to understand the fundamental relationships between structure and function of living systems, at both the molecular and cellular levels. He discovered a new mechanism – known as kinetic stability – used by proteins to survive in extreme environments, which has implications for protein engineering.
As part of his research, he also discovered the molecular mechanism that the drug tamoxifen uses to block the effects of estrogen, a process that has been shown to prevent breast cancer in some high-risk women. The discovery – a structural insight into how tamoxifen changes the normal shape of a receptor of estrogen molecules – provides clues to the design of more effective disease-preventing drugs. His current efforts focus on uncovering the structural mechanisms of important therapeutic targets, including microtubule nucleation and folding regulation by the Hsp90 molecular chaperone.
O’Farrell achieved early recognition for development of high-resolution, two-dimensional electrophoresis, a protein separation technology that became the foundation of the field of proteomics. He subsequently played a major role in studies of embryonic patterning in the fruit fly Drosophila where his research demonstrated that important developmental regulators, the homeodomain proteins, are sequence specific DNA binding proteins that regulate transcription. In recent years, O’Farrell’s research has revealed mechanisms that control the proliferation of cells during embryonic development. This research has pioneered a new field that is revealing how growth is controlled in the normal organism and is uncovering defects that disrupt this control and lead to cancer.
O’Farrell directs the research of a lab that examines diverse and fundamental biological questions, using the fruit fly Drosophila as an experimental system. His research is investigating the mechanisms and regulation of adaptations to hypoxia (low oxygen). He also focuses on the subtle and complex process of cell division as well as the fruit fly’s innate immune response.
More than 30 years ago, when still a graduate student at University of Colorado, O’Farrell invented a way to separate proteins from one another in biological samples, a technique called high-resolution two-dimensional gel electrophoresis. With this technique, which underlies much of modern biomedical discovery, scientists can observe changes in the amounts of cellular proteins associated with particular mutations. Previously, only the most common proteins in cells could be detected easily. O’Farrell’s 2-D gel technique has since enabled separation of more than 1,000 proteins from one another.
Established in 1780 by several of the nation’s founders, the AAAS undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Current projects focus on science, technology and global security; social policy and American institutions; the humanities and culture; and education. The academy’s membership of scholars and practitioners from many disciplines and professions gives it a unique capacity to conduct a wide range of interdisciplinary, long-term policy research.
Abul K. Abbas, MBBS
UCSF Department of Pathology