UCSF Awards Medals to Three Health Innovators for Outstanding Contributions

Three distinguished individuals were recognized on April 26 with the UCSF Medal – the University’s highest honor – to acknowledge those who have made outstanding contributions in areas associated with the University’s mission.

The UCSF Medal was presented at the 2011 Founders Day banquet at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in San Francisco.

Initiated in 1975 by then Chancellor Francis Sooy, MD, the UCSF Medal replaced the granting of honorary degrees. Recipients are selected annually by a committee composed of University members and others.

The recipients of the 2011 UCSF Medal are:

  • Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, Nobel laureate and Morris Herzstein Endowed Chair in Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF
  • Marvin H. Sleisenger, MD, professor of medicine emeritus and Distinguished Physician in the US Department of Veterans Affairs
  • His Highness the Aga Khan, founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network

The UCSF Medal is the University’s equivalent of an honorary degree. While not restricted to individuals who have an association with UCSF, the award recognizes outstanding personal contributions in areas associated with the University’s fourfold mission, such as providing top-quality patient care, improving understanding of the factors that affect human health and serving the community.

About the 2011 UCSF Medalists

Elizabeth Blackburn

Blackburn was the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discoveries in telomere biology. She began her groundbreaking research in 1975 as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. Nine years later, as an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Blackburn and her graduate student, Carol Greider, first identified a novel enzyme, telomerase, which makes telomeres. Telomeres, repeating units of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes, protect the chromosomes from degradation.

Blackburn’s work has substantial implications for cancer, aging and other fields of research, with the potential to ultimately affect hundreds of millions of lives.

Blackburn is the recipient of the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. She was named one of the “Most Influential People in the World” by Time magazine in 2007.


Marvin H. Sleisenger

Sleisenger is internationally renowned for his work in internal medicine and its subspecialty of gastroenterology. He has made valuable contributions to UCSF and to the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center (SFVAMC) during his long career in the Bay Area.

Following graduation from Harvard Medical School, he pursued further training at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell medical school. At Cornell, Sleisenger rapidly rose to the rank of professor of medicine and director of one of the nation’s premier specialty divisions of gastroenterology.

In 1968, Sleisenger was recruited to UCSF as chief of the Medical Service at the SFVAMC and vice chair of UCSF’s Department of Medicine. In subsequent years, due in large measure to his imaginative and sustained leadership, the SFVAMC has become the most acclaimed academic institution among the 155 hospitals in the national VA system. This transformation was based on balanced, excellent programs in patient care, education and medical research.

He is being recognized for his exceptional role over the past four decades in improving the care of veterans, in expanding and strengthening UCSF’s overall academic programs, and, more generally, for leadership in the discipline of gastroenterology.


His Highness the Aga Khan

The 49th hereditary spiritual leader (Imam) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, the Aga Khan is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which works in more than 30 countries to improve living conditions and opportunities for the poor. The AKDN agencies are nondenominational and conduct programs without regard to the faith, origin or gender of beneficiaries.

In 2009, the Aga Khan entered into an agreement of cooperation with the state of California to enable partnerships between the AKDN and California institutions in areas such as health care, education, natural disaster risk management, the environment and culture. Also in 2009, Aga Khan University entered into a partnership with UCSF to advance their common goal of improving health care in specific countries of Africa and Asia by enhancing health care human resources capacity through education in medicine and nursing, as well as joint research in diseases that afflict vulnerable people in the developing world.

Related Links