• Discovered prions, an entirely new biological principle of infection and disease, which cause degenerative brain disorders, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people and mad cow disease. The discovery was honored with the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. (Stanley Prusiner, MD)
  • Discovered that AIDS could be transmitted through blood transfusions, and were first to warn the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the finding. The discovery and its impact on the safety of the nation’s blood supply led to new methods of screening donors and saving lives. (Arthur Ammann, MD; Diane Wara, MD; and Morton Cowan, MD)


  • Performed the first successful open fetal surgery, in which a surgical team corrected a life-threatening birth defect in the fetus while it was positioned in the mother’s uterus. The entire field of fetal treatment was pioneered at UCSF, which has more experience in this specialty than any other institution in the world. (Michael Harrison, MD; Mitchell Golbus, MD; and Roy Filly, MD)
  • Performed the first catheter ablation in a human to correct heart rhythm problems without open heart surgery. UCSF is credited with pioneering the procedure through extensive studies. (Melvin Scheinman, MD)
  • Cloned the gene for the outer coat of the hepatitis B virus, making possible the development of the first-ever vaccine using recombinant DNA techniques. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1986, the vaccine has had significant impact on world health, including the incidence of liver cancer. (William Rutter, PhD)
  • Co-discovered embryonic stem cells in mice and coined the term embryonic stem cells, laying the groundwork for worldwide research on human embryonic stem cells to treat disease. (Gail Martin, PhD)

1980s (early)

  • First to identify an association between HIV/AIDS and malignant lymphomas, such as Burkitt's lymphoma, which are cancers of the lymphoid tissue.  (John Ziegler, MD, MSc, who did pioneering work in development of a cure for Burkitt's in children in Africa before joining the UCSF faculty.)
  • Created the first-of-its kind computer program called DOCK to predict which off-the-shelf chemicals might bind to specific proteins and other molecules of interest. Rich visual displays of these computer-screening results can be rotated in three dimensions to help stimulate new ideas about how molecules are likely to interact, including ideas that may lead to new drugs. The program went on to become widely used by researchers. (Irwin Kuntz, PhD)
  • Conducted groundbreaking studies on the importance of gender-based health care research that was instrumental in shaping the field of women's health.  (Virginia Olesen, PhD)


John Clements, MD

  • Developed an artificial form of the natural lung secretion called surfactant, revolutionizing treatment for premature infants and significantly reducing infant deaths worldwide. The drug therapy compensates for the absence of the substance in infants born with immature lungs. It was developed by a UCSF team following a decade of work (1961-1972) in the initial discovery and characterization of surfactant. (John Clements, MD; William Tooley, MD; and Roderic Phibbs, MD)
  • First to report that elevated blood sugar caused abnormal structures in cells, helping to pioneer the intensive glucose control strategies now used throughout the world for managing diabetes. (John Karam, MD, and Gerold Grodsky, PhD) 


  • Cloned the gene for human growth hormone, setting the stage for synthetic human growth hormone created through recombinant DNA technology. (John Baxter, MD)
  • Developed a cochlear implant device that enables the deaf to hear. (Michael Merzenich, PhD; Robert Schindler, MD; and Robin Michelson, MD)
  • Cloned bovine growth hormone, a discovery with significant implications worldwide.  Bovine growth hormone has been used to increase milk production in cattle and has become an important part of food supply and economies, particularly in developing countries.  (Walter Miller, MD)


  • Discovered that placebos work in part by activating the endorphin system, the body’s natural pain control network. (Howard Fields, MD, PhD; Jon Levine, MD, PhD; and Newton Gordon, DDS)
  • Co-discovered a protein kinase that is a product of proto-oncogenes, normal genes that can be converted to cancer genes by genetic damage.  The kinase is an enzyme that alters the function of many other proteins by attaching phosphate groups to them, and the finding was the first identification of a molecular mechanism involved in tumorigenesis, the process of tumor formation.  The discovery led to a significant new field of study focusing on protein kinases, which now represent the largest group of targets for new cancer therapeutics.  (Arthur Levinson, PhD; J. Michael Bishop, MD; and Harold Varmus, MD)


  • Isolated the gene for insulin, leading to the mass production of genetically engineered insulin to treat diabetes. This research achievement is recognized as the first major triumph using recombinant DNA technology. (William Rutter, PhD)
  • Developed liposomes, microscopic sacs that can safely transport drugs within the body. (Demetrios Papahadjopoulos, PhD)


  • Developed the first prenatal tests for inherited blood diseases such as sickle-cell anemia and thalassemia. (Y.W. Kan, MD, DSc)
  • Discovered proto-oncogenes, normal genes that can be converted to cancer genes by genetic damage. The finding led to recognition that all cancer probably arises from damage to normal genes, and provided new strategies for the detection and treatment of cancer. The research team received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of the discovery. (J. Michael Bishop, MD; and Harold Varmus, MD)
  • Discovered a drug therapy that could correct a common cardiovascular defect in premature infants, called patent ductus arteriosis, thereby allowing babies to avoid major surgery to correct the problem. The therapy was based on indomethacin, a common anti-inflammatory drug. (Abraham Rudolph, MD; and Michael Heymann, MD)


  • Used a breakthrough technique called deep brain stimulation that involved inserting an electrode deep in the brain to activate the body’s own pain control centers, thereby relieving chronic, debilitating pain. (John Adams, MD; and Yoshio Hosobuchi, MD)
  • Discovered chlamydia as a primary cause of pneumonia in newborns, which sometimes leads to permanent lung damage. The finding led to the determination that a routine test in the expectant mother could allow for immediate antibiotic treatment to prevent nearly all related lung disease cases in newborns. (Julius Schachter, PhD)


Herbert W. Boyer, PhD

  • Achieved the first successful DNA splicing, a discovery that spawned the entire biotechnology industry and has led to development of numerous lifesaving treatments. (Herbert Boyer, PhD, with colleague Stanley Cohen of Stanford University)


  • Synthesized human growth hormone, making possible later development of successful treatments for childhood growth disorders. The achievement followed three decades of UCSF work that focused on identifying and isolating the hormones of the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. (Choh Hao Li, PhD)
  • Developed a ventilation technique called continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to treat newborns suffering from lung failure. A lifesaving technique, the procedure was gentler on the lungs than other types of ventilation, and became the most widely used mode of care employed for very premature babies throughout the world in neonatal intensive care units. (George Gregory, MD)


  • Developed an innovative program that positioned pharmacists as “clinical pharmacists” who were active members of the health care team, working side by side with physicians and nurses to provide direct care to patients. The first of its kind in the United States and considered revolutionary, the program was based on training pharmacists as drug therapy specialists, and not simply drug dispensers. The pioneering UCSF work led to clinical pharmacy as a distinct health sciences specialty. (Jere Goyan, PharmD; Eric Owyang, PharmD; Sidney Riegelman, PharmD; and Donald Sorby, PhD)


  • First to link obesity to type 2 diabetes, a finding that resulted in revolutionary changes in diabetes treatment and prevention. (John Karam, MD; and Gerold Grodsky, PhD)


  • Discovered vitamin E.  (Herbert Evans, MD, during the period when the basic science departments were based at UC Berkeley)


  • Developed basic sterilization and hygiene procedures for the US canning industry to prevent botulism, thereby safeguarding consumers and saving the industry.  (Karl F. Meyer, DVM, PhD) 


  • Conducted initial studies on liver metabolism and the relationship between the liver and blood components, leading to successful treatment of pernicious anemia, a usually fatal form of the disease. The research was conducted at the George Williams Hooper Foundation, located on the Parnassus campus. (George Whipple, MD, who left UC in 1921 for the University of Rochester. He and Harvard colleagues George Minot and William Murphy received the 1934 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their body of research that led to the lifesaving treatment.)


  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3