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American Philosophical Society Elects Kan

Yuet Wai Kan

Yuet Wai Kan, MD, DSc, the Louis K. Diamond, MD, Chair in Hematology at UCSF, was recently elected to the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States.

The American Philosophical Society was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” Today, the society has 987 elected members, 821 resident members and 166 international members from more than two dozen countries. Since 1900, more than 260 of its members have received the Nobel Prize.

Kan was the first to establish that a single DNA mutation could result in a human disease. Through this work, he has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of inherited blood diseases, sickle cell anemia and thalassemia. His research led to the innovation of DNA diagnosis that has found wide applications in many diseases. Kan is currently working on stem cell therapy of these diseases. He has contributed to more than 280 articles in scientific journals.

Born in Hong Kong in 1936, Kan received his MBBS (with honors) degree in 1958 and a DSc degree in 1980 from the University of Hong Kong medical school.

After graduation, Kan received clinical training at the Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong. In 1960, he came to North America and obtained additional clinical, hematology and research training in Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Montreal. In 1970, he joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, and in 1972 joined the faculty at UCSF, where he is currently the Louis K. Diamond, MD, Chair in Hematology.

Kan has been elected to many prestigious societies, including the Royal Society, London (1981), National Academy of Sciences (1986), Academia Sinica, Taiwan (1988), Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing (1996), and American Philosophical Society (2009). He was the first Chinese scientist to be elected to the Royal Society.

Kan has served on many national committees as well as on the editorial boards of many scientific journals. He 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. Kan also has participated in a number of medical and educational projects in Hong Kong.

Throughout his career, Kan has received many national and international awards, including the George Thorn Award, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (1980); Allan Award, American Society of Human Genetics (1984); American College of Physicians Research Award (1988); Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (1989); Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award (1991); and the Christopher Columbus Discovery Award in Biomedical Research, given one time on the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America (1992).

Kan’s international awards include the Henry Stratton Medal, International Society of Hematology (1980); the Gairdner Foundation International Award, Canada (1984); Sanremo International Prize for Genetic Research, Italy (1989); the Federation of Chinese Canadian Professionals Award (1994); the Helmut Horten Foundation Research Award, Switzerland (1995); the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine (2004); and the American Society of Hematology inaugural Ernest Beutler Award (2009).

About the American Philosophical Society

The American Philosophical Society sustains its mission of promoting knowledge in three principal ways:

  • Honoring and engaging distinguished scientists, humanists, social scientists and leaders in civic and cultural affairs through elected membership and opportunities for interdisciplinary, intellectual fellowship;
  • Supporting research and discovery through grants and fellowships, lectures, publications, prizes, exhibitions, and public education; and
  • Serving scholars through a research library of manuscripts and other collections internationally recognized for their enduring historic value.

The American Philosophical Society’s current activities reflect the founder’s spirit of inquiry, provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and convey the conviction of its members that intellectual inquiry and critical thought are inherently in the public interest.

Early members included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison and John Marshall. In the 19th century, John James Audubon, Robert Fulton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison and Louis Pasteur were among those elected. Albert Einstein, Robert Frost and George Marshall hint at the scientific, humanistic and public accomplishments of 20th century members.