National Academy of Sciences Elects Five UCSF Faculty

May 12, 2010

Five members of the UCSF faculty were recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences, considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded an American scientist.

UCSF can now count 42 current faculty members who have been elected to this distinguished group.

The five faculty members elected this year are:

  • Robert Fletterick, PhD, professor, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics;
  • Donald Ganem, MD, professor, departments of Microbiology and Immunology and Medicine;
  • Ulrike Heberlein, PhD, professor, Department of Anatomy;
  • Lewis Lanier, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Cancer Research Institute; and
  • Zena Werb, PhD, professor and vice chair, Department of Anatomy.

In all, 72 scientists from institutions throughout the country were elected to membership during the recent 147th annual meeting. The National Academy of Sciences now numbers 2,097 active members.

The academy was founded by Congress in 1863 as a private, nonprofit honor organization, and through its National Research Council is the official adviser to the federal government on all issues of science and technology.

Robert Fletterick

Fletterick, former chair and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry, is jointly appointed with the departments of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at UCSF. 

Fletterick is a world-renowned researcher in the area of structural biology. His laboratory has determined high-resolution X-ray crystal structures of nuclear receptors, kinesin molecular motors, clathrin and many enzymes. Fletterick is known for his work on constructing engineered proteins with new function.

For about 10 years from 1975 to 1985, the structures of glycogen phosphorylase determined in his lab were record holders. Glycogen phosphorylase, which controls glucose metabolism, was the largest molecule imaged by X-ray crystallography.

Fletterick’s laboratory solved the first structure of a nuclear receptor bound to its hormone and the first structure of the molecular motor kinesin found in nerve cells, showing it related to the well known myosin motor protein of muscle. Today, his lab studies hormone receptors that regulate embryogenesis, steroid metabolism and development and cancer.

Fletterick received his PhD degree from Cornell University and did his postdoctoral research in molecular biophysics in the laboratory of Thomas Steitz at Yale University. Before settling at UCSF, he was a professor of Biochemistry at the University of Alberta, and a founding member of the MRC Group on Protein Structure and Function.

Donald Ganem

A Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor of Microbiology and Medicine, Ganem studies the molecular mechanisms by which pathogenic viruses infect humans and cause disease. His studies have uncovered how the viruses responsible for hepatitis B and Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) infect humans and wreak havoc on the body.

In 1991, he set his sights on tracking the microbial source of KS, a disease that causes patches of purplish, disfiguring lesions on the skin and mucous membranes. After another team isolated snippets of viral DNA from a tumor sample of KS, Ganem and his colleagues developed a cell culture system that allowed them to grow the virus in the lab. They later developed a blood test for the infection that helped Ganem establish that the suspect virus, herpesvirus 8, is indeed responsible for KS.

Today, Ganem continues to unravel the molecular basis of KS. With fellow UCSF faculty member and HHMI investigator Joseph DeRisi, PhD, Ganem developed the ViroChip, a high-throughput screening technology that uses a DNA microarray to test viral samples. The ViroChip was used in the 2003 identification of the virus causing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

Ganem’s lab uses the ViroChip to interrogate RNA samples derived from patient biopsies. New genomes identified in this way are cloned and characterized, and their links to the disease state probed epidemiologically and biochemically. Ultimately, Ganem hopes to determine whether viruses may be responsible for certain cancers and autoimmune diseases for which a viral infection has never before been established.

Ulrike Heberlein

Heberlein is using the fruit fly Drosophila, with its accessibility to genetic and molecular analysis, to better understand the missing links between genes and drug-induced behaviors.

Her laboratory analyzes the effects of ethanol and other drugs of abuse on the nervous system of these fruit flies, which display many of the same behaviors observed in humans following both acute and chronic exposure to ethanol, including loss of coordination, hyperactivity and tolerance. Screening for genetic mutations in fruit flies that affect sensitivity to intoxication and development of tolerance may lead to a better understanding of such genetic factors in humans and suggest new therapies.

Heberlein earned a BS and MS degree in biochemistry at the Universidad de Concepcion, Chile, and her PhD degree from UC Berkeley.

Lewis Lanier

Lanier is widely recognized for his contributions to the field of immunology. In addition to his position as professor and chair in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, he is an American Cancer Society Professor and heads the Cancer, Immunity, and Microenvironment Program of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Lanier’s research focuses on how the immune system responds to viral infection and cancer. His research group studies a population of white blood cells, known as Natural Killer (NK) cells, which recognize and eliminate cells that have become transformed or infected by viruses. His team has developed monoclonal antibodies against human NK cells that are currently used for diagnostic purposes.

Lanier received his PhD degree in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina in 1978. After postdoctoral studies, Lanier joined the Becton Dickinson Monoclonal Center in Mountain View, and in 1990, he moved to the DNAX Research Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Palo Alto, where he was promoted to director of Immunobiology. He joined the faculty at UCSF in 1999.

Zena Werb

Werb is recognized internationally for her fundamental discoveries about the molecular and cellular bases of extracellular matrix proteolysis and their roles in the normal functioning and pathogenesis of tissues. Her studies have led to new paradigms about the role of the cellular microenvironment and intercellular communication in breast development and cancer.

Werb received her BSc degree in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto, and her PhD degree in Cell Biology from Rockefeller University. After postdoctoral studies at the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge, England, she was recruited to the faculty at UCSF in 1976. Werb is a member of the UCSF Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the The Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the FASEB Excellence in Science Award, the Charlotte Friend Award of the American Association for Cancer Research and the E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society of Cell Biology.

Werb is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has the honorary degree of Doctor in Medicine from the University of Copenhagen. Werb has been an elected officer of the American Society for Cell Biology and the American Association for Cancer Research.

Related Links:


National Academy of Sciences

The Immune System and Natural Killer Cells: A Conversation with Lewis Lanier
Science Café, January 11, 2009

An Infectious Personality: A Conversation with Virologist Don Ganem, Part 1 of 2
Science Café, March 26, 2008

Ulrike Heberlein: High Flies Have Heberlein Hopeful
UCSF Magazine, May 2003