Martin to Receive National Excellence in Science Award

Gail Martin

Gail Martin, PhD, professor in the Department of Anatomy, has been named the recipient of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) 2011 Excellence in Science Award.

The award recognizes women whose outstanding career achievements in biological science have contributed significantly to further our understanding of a particular discipline by excellence in research.

This prestigious award, sponsored in total by Eli Lilly and Company, carries with it an unrestricted research grant of $10,000. Martin will receive her award and present an award lecture in 2011.

FASEB is composed of 23 societies with more than 100,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. FASEB enhances the ability of scientists and engineers to improve the health, well-being and productivity of all people through research.

Early in her career, Martin was one of the first scientists in the world to isolate precursor cells from mouse embryos in 1981 and coined the term embryonic stem cells, laying the groundwork for current worldwide research on the use of human embryonic stem cells to treat disease.

Martin is known for developing new approaches to address critical issues, and she often provides the methods and approaches to other scientists before they are published. She has published more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, serving as senior author on the majority of them. Many of her publications in top tier journals, including Nature, Science and Cell and her first-in-field discoveries are well known by developmental biologists around the world.

Martin obtained her PhD degree from UC Berkeley in 1971. Following postdoctoral research at University College London, she joined the faculty at UCSF in 1976, and is currently a Professor in the Department of Anatomy, and head of the PIBS Program in Developmental Biology.

Pioneering Research

Martin has gone on to explore how the family of fibroblast growth factors function to regulate an array of developmental processes. Working with chicken and mouse embryos, she identified fibroblast growth factors (FGF) as the molecules responsible for the biologic activity found in the Apical Ectodermal Ridge, a portion of the epithelium required for limb outgrowth and patterning. Her initial discovery represented the first identification of a molecule that mediates epithelial-mesenchymal interactions during development, and one of the first to identify a protein responsible for the activity of an organizing center. This served as a paradigm for understanding how inductive signaling controls morphogenetic events in the embryo. Her studies have also provided insight into the role of FGFs in several human diseases caused by defects in FGF signaling.

Martin and her colleagues also were the first to demonstrate that female pluripotent stem cells contain two active X-chromosomes and can undergo X-inactivation in vitro when they form embryoid bodies. She went on to characterize some of the epigenetic events leading to X-inactivation. Her contributions to developmental biology extend into other areas as well. 

Martin’s work has led to her election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), and to the US National Academy of Sciences (2002). She has been the recipient of the E.G. Conklin medal from the Society for Developmental Biology for excellence in developmental biology research (2002), the Ernst W. Bertner Memorial Award from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (2006), and the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize from The Rockefeller University (shared with Beatrice Mintz and Elizabeth Robertson), an international award to recognize the accomplishments of outstanding women scientists (2007).

Martin is also recognized for her tremendous mentoring contributions. She played a leadership role in the establishment of the UCSF Graduate Program in Developmental Biology and has served as its drector continuously since 1986. She has trained numerous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have gone on to become leaders in the field.

Source: Margaret K. Offermann, MD, PhD, chairman, Excellence in Science Committee Member, Board of Directors, FASEB

Related Links:

FASEB Excellence in Science website

Gail Martin’s lab

Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research