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UCSF Scholar Honored for Work With Cells That Fight Cancer, Viral Infection

By Robin Hindery

Joseph Sun

UCSF postdoctoral scholar Joseph Sun, PhD, has been awarded the 2009 Dean’s Postdoctoral Prize for his research involving the fast-acting immune cells that help form the body’s first line of defense against tumors and viral infection. Sun has been working closely with these cells — natural killer (NK) cells — since 2006, when he joined the lab of Lewis Lanier, PhD. During that time, Sun and his colleagues have managed to disprove the traditional belief among scientists that NK cells do not retain any memory of the pathogens they encounter. “Using a well-defined virus model in mice, we showed that these cells not only have a memory feature, but also that it can last for months,” Sun said in a phone interview. That feature allows NK cells to mount a so-called adaptive immune response, meaning the cells can use the memory of a pathogen to respond better and faster the next time they encounter it, Sun said. Sun’s work “has broad implications for our understanding of the immune system and our ability to exploit it to better protect against infectious disease,” said Sam Hawgood, MB, BS, interim dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, in an email announcing the award. The Dean’s Postdoctoral Prize is awarded to one UCSF postdoctoral scholar each year. It not only recognizes outstanding research efforts on an individual level, but also pays tribute to the contributions postdoctoral scholars make to the scientific community. Sun will receive a $1,000 cash prize and will present his research to the UCSF community on Tuesday, Feb. 24, on both the Parnassus and Mission Bay campuses. In nominating him for the award, Sun’s peers and mentors described him as “a collaborative and supportive scientist” and “an intellectual driving force” behind the Lanier lab’s ongoing research into NK cells, Hawgood said.

Related Links:

The Lanier Lab at UCSF

Office of Postdoctoral Education
UCSF School of Medicine

UCSF School of Medicine

The Immune System and Natural Killer Cells: A Conversation with Lewis Lanier
UCSF Science Café