UCSF's Ken Dill elected to National Academy of Sciences

By Wallace Ravven

Kenneth (Ken) Dill, Phd, a national leader in research to clarify and predict the physical properties of proteins and other biological molecules, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy announced Tuesday.

Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors an American scientist can receive.

Dill is a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry in UCSF’s School of Pharmacy, and serves as the School’s associate dean for research. He is also a professor of biochemistry and biophysics, and a faculty affiliate in the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, headquartered on the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

His election brings to 32 the number of current Academy members at UCSF.

Dill is a pioneer in theoretical approaches to determine the physical forces that determine the three-dimensional folded shape of proteins. It is this conformation that determines how proteins interact, and knowing this shape is crucial to “rational” design of drugs.

He uses computational techniques and modeling based on statistical mechanics to advance understanding of protein folding. He is also concerned with how amino acid sequences encode the protein structures, and the physical factors that stabilize proteins against unfolding and aggregation – two natural processes that can go awry and cause some of the most serious human diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

“Ken’s election is terrific—so well-deserved,” said Mary Anne Koda-Kimble. “He’s a stellar scientist and an avid advocate for science as a public good.”

“His fundamental work on protein folding has given the global scientific community a deeper understanding of how proteins adopt their structures. This knowledge, in turn, can ultimately lead to better computational models for designing drugs.”

In 2007, Dill and a colleague applied their understanding of how simple chemical and physical properties might have led pre-biological molecules to interract in a way that could lead to life on earth.  They described their model in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Dill is the author of more than 200 scientific papers.

This year, 72 members were elected nationally, along with 18 foreign associations. Thirteen members were elected from all of the University of California campuses.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to advancing science and its use for the general welfare. It serves as an official adviser to the federal government on matters of science or technology. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln.