Leading Human Geneticist Receives Major Honor

Yuet Wai Kan

Yuet Wai Kan, MD, DSc, a pioneer of human genetics, received a Gold Medal from the University of Hong Kong in December during opening ceremonies celebrating the 120th anniversary of the university's Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine. Kan, the Louis K. Diamond Professor of Hematology at UCSF, was one of six living alumni of the university to be awarded the medal. He is the only recipient living outside of Hong Kong. The University of Hong Kong is recognized as a top medical university in Asia. It also enjoys historical significance: Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of modern China, was among its first graduating class of medical doctors. Kan was the first scientist to establish that a single DNA mutation could result in a human disease. He demonstrated this in sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, and was the first to introduce DNA testing to diagnose human diseases in the fetus before birth. He discovered DNA polymorphism - the variation of DNA sequences among individuals - which forms the basis of the techniques of RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) and SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism), now extensively used for genetic analysis. Today, Kan continues to break new ground, exploring the use of gene therapy and the latest techniques of stem cell research to treat sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. His aim is to develop cell therapy in patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines, and then to transplant the treated cells into patients to treat their disease. His team is carrying out research in a mouse model of sickle cell anemia, in which animals have been genetically engineered to harbor a human gene that causes the disease. Multiple Honors, Awards A member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Kan has received many high honors. These include the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine in 2004, an international award given by the Shaw Prize Foundation, based in Hong Kong, which recognizes breakthroughs in scientific research resulting in "a positive and profound impact on mankind." He was honored in 1991 with the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, the nation's most prestigious honor in the clinical research field. He was the first Chinese to be named a fellow of the Royal Society of the United Kingdom, in 1981. Kan's honors also include the Helmut Horten Research Award in 1995, the American College of Physicians Award in 1988, the Waterford Award in Biomedical Sciences in 1987, the Allan Award of the American Society of Human Genetics, the Gairdner International Award in 1984 and the Dameshek Award from the American Society of Hematology in 1979. He is the current chairman of the Croucher Foundation, established in Hong Kong in 1979 to support projects in science, technology and medicine. He is also a scientific adviser and a member of the executive committee of the Qiu Shi Foundation of Hong Kong, which supports science and technology in China. He currently serves on the Committee on Human Rights and the Executive Council of the National Academy of Sciences. He is a member of the Academia Sinica of Taiwan, and is a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing. Kan has served as president of the American Society of Hematology and was a member of the President's Committee on the National Medal of Science. Born in Hong Kong, Kan graduated from the University of Hong Kong medical school in 1958. He received clinical training in Hong Kong and the United States. In 1970, he joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and in 1972, he joined the UCSF faculty. He received a DSc degree from the University of Hong Kong in 1980 and is the recipient of several honorary degrees. Photo/Noah Berger Related Links: UCSF Genetics Pioneer Y. W. Kan Earns Lifetime Achievement Award
UCSF Today, July 21, 2006