Four UCSF scientists named to Institute of Medicine

By Jennifer O'Brien

Four faculty scientists in the UCSF School of Medicine are among the 65 newly elected members and five foreign associates to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute announced today, Oct. 13.

The new UCSF members are:

  • Thomas S. Bodenheimer, MD, MPH, professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, and director, Center for Excellence in Primary Care.
  • Douglas Hanahan, PhD, an American Cancer Society Research Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, member, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and member, Diabetes Center.
  • Arnold Kriegstein, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, and John G. Bowes Distinguished Professor in Stem Cell and Tissue Biology and director, Institute for Regeneration Medicine.
  • Michael Merzenich, PhD, professor emeritus of otolaryngology, member, Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience.

The election brings to 79 the number of UCSF faculty who are members of the prestigious Institute. Election to the Institute recognizes those who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. It is considered one of the highest honors in these fields.

Bodenheimer has worked for the last four decades as a primary care physician in San Francisco’s Mission District—in community health centers, private practice and now at San Francisco General Hospital. His primary interest, as laid out in a seminal New England Journal of Medicine Perspective in 2006, is solving the problems facing primary care in the United States.

Trained at Harvard Medical School, Bodenheimer did a residency in internal medicine at UCSF. While he was on the clinical faculty at UCSF for many years, in 2002 he assumed a full capacity role, as Professor of Family and Community Medicine.

He is the co-author of the leading textbook on health policy, “Understanding Health Policy: A Clinical Approach – 5rd edition,” McGraw-Hill, 2008. He also co-authored “Improving Primary Care: Strategies and Tools for a Better Practice, McGraw-Hill,” 2006.

In community health, he is trying to improve the operations of 10 San Francisco health clinics serving uninsured and Medi-Cal patients and teaches third year medical students and residents in family medicine.

In the policy arena, he’s trying to raise the understanding among policy makers around the country that primary care is critical to the health care system and is in trouble because few medical students are choosing to practice it.

He advocates higher pay for primary care physicians, working to make the profession more attractive to medical students, and addressing the biases against primary care in academia.

Hanahan, a leader in the development of genetically engineered mouse models of human cancers, is working to elucidate the mechanisms of cancers and to identify therapeutic strategies.

In the mid 1980s, Hanahan produced some of the first ‘oncomice’ – mice genetically engineered to develop organ-specific human cancers. He has used the models to investigate the multi-stage pathways that govern tumor formation and progression, and to explore the benefits of targeted therapies, in particular strategies aimed at blocking the growth of blood vessels to tumors, which rely on the blood supply for growth. This approach is known as angiogenesis inhibition.

He discovered, in collaboration with the late Judah Folkman at Harvard Medical School, the “angiogenic switch,” which is activated to produce new blood vessels in early stage lesions preceding overt tumors. A current focus of his work is elucidating the “organ of genesis” of tumors, in which multiple cell types assemble with overtly transformed cells to form aberrant, expansive microenvironments of cancer.

He has also used genetically engineered mouse models to investigate mechanisms of self tolerance to the pancreatic beta cells, which are destroyed by the immune system in type I diabetes; he found, for example rare tolerance-inducing cells in the thymus that express the beta-cell specific insulin gene.

As a graduate student, Hanahan developed high efficiency plasmid transformation methods and E. coli strains that have facilitated DNA cloning procedures; his work on E. coli transformation (the production of “competent cells”) has facilitated molecular genetics research in the life sciences.

As the founding director of the UCSF Institute for Regeneration Medicine, Kriegstein has led the development of one of the leading institutes of its kind in the United States. He previously was the founding director of the Neural Stem Cell Center at Columbia University.

The Institute encompasses some 60 labs investigating fundamental questions about human development, with the goal of illuminating and treating a broad range of diseases and disorders, from heart disease and diabetes to birth defects, osteoporosis and cancer. As a neurologist, Kriegstein is interested in determining if stem cells could someday be used to treat diseases in which the neurons of the brain have died or been damaged, as in Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, Huntington’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Last March, Kriegstein was awarded the second largest comprehensive grant from the California Institute for Regeneration Medicine, for a collaborative study involving four labs at UCSF trying to prompt human embryonic stem cells to specialize as a particular type of nerve cell, known as an inhibitory neuron, that could be used to dampen the electrical activity in the brain circuits of patients with Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

Merzenich’s pioneering research during the last three decades has revealed the brain’s capacity to rewire itself. He has used this knowledge to develop novel interventions aimed at treating a wide range of neurological diseases and disabilities.

In the 1980s, he developed the first neural prosthesis—the cochlear implant—which worked because it engaged the brain in learning to hear in a new way. In the mid 1990s, he developed software programs for language and learning disabilities that work by accelerating the speed at which children process sound. His patented findings led to his co-founding in 1996 of Scientific Learning, a therapeutic software company in Oakland, California.

Today, he is exploring novel strategies for treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, functional losses in normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, acquired movement disorders, autism, and learning, language and reading impairments in children.

In 2003, he co-founded Posit Science, in San Francisco, which is carrying out software-based intervention trials on a number of neurological conditions and disorders.

The Institute of Medicine’s total active membership is now 1,576 and the number of foreign associates is 89. With another 71 members holding emeritus status, IOM’s total membership is now 1,736.

Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine is a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on issues related to human health. With their election, members make a commitment to devote a significant amount of volunteer time as members of IOM study committees.

Current active members elect new members from among candidates nominated for their professional achievement and commitment to service. The Institute’s charter stipulates that at least one-quarter of the membership be selected from outside the health professions, from such fields as the natural, social, and behavioral sciences, as well as law, administration, engineering, and the humanities.

UCSF is a leading university that advances health worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences and health professions, and providing complex patient care.

IOM news release available at: