Five UCSF Scientists Named to Institute of Medicine

By Elizabeth Fernandez

UCSF School of Nursing Dean David Vlahov and four other UCSF faculty members have been elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

The new UCSF members were announced today (Oct. 17, 2011) in Washington, D.C. and include:

  • Claire D. Brindis, DrPH, MPH, professor of health policy in the UCSF department of pediatrics and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences; director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, and co-director of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health.
  • Diana L. Farmer, MD, professor of surgery, pediatrics, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences; vice chair of surgery at the UCSF School of Medicine, and chief of pediatric surgery at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
  • Yuet Wai Kan, MB, DSc, professor in the departments of medicine and laboratory medicine and the Institute for Human Genetics.
  • David Vlahov, RN, PhD, dean and endowed professor in nursing education of the UCSF School of Nursing.
  • Mark E. von Zastrow, MD, PhD, professor and Friends of LPPI Endowed Chair for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression in the department of psychiatry.

The election brings to 89 the number of UCSF faculty who are members of the IOM, an independent, nonprofit organization that works to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to improve health. It was established in 1970 as the health branch of the National Academy of Sciences.

Altogether, the IOM elected 65 new members and five foreign associates. Election to the IOM is a recognition of outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

“It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and accomplished individuals to the Institute of Medicine," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. "Each of them stands out as a professional whose research, knowledge, and skills have significantly advanced health and medicine, and their achievements are an inspiration. The Institute of Medicine is greatly enriched by the addition of our newly elected colleagues."

New members are chosen by current active members through a highly selective process that recognizes people who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health. At least a quarter of the membership is selected from outside the health professions from such fields as the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; law; engineering; and the humanities.

The IOM total active membership is now 1,688 and the number of foreign associates is 102. An additional 80 members hold emeritus status.

With their election, members make a commitment to volunteer their services on IOM committees, boards, and other activities. 

  • Brindis’ career is distinguished by her successful efforts in translating health-research  findings into state and national policy. She focuses particularly on child, adolescent and young adult health policy, initiatives aimed at increasing access to high quality health services for low income populations, and reproductive health services for women and men. Brindis has led several multidisciplinary teams evaluating a broad range of public health and health service initiatives, including the federal Children’s Health Insurance Initiative and its impact on adolescents, the state of California’s Office of Family Planning 1115 Medicaid waiver and teenage pregnancy prevention strategies, community coalitions focused on improving environmental health and reducing childhood asthma, and community clinic efforts aimed at improving health care access.
  • Farmer, the world’s first woman fetal surgeon, is internationally recognized for her expertise in complex surgical repair of thoracic and intestinal anomalies before and after birth, and for cancer surgery in children. She also has made her mark in global health sciences, volunteering as a surgeon and forging professional partnerships with institutions across East Africa. Her contributions to pediatric and fetal surgical care and the global health sciences earned her the distinction of being only the second American woman to be inducted into the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons of England.
  • Kan has been widely acclaimed for his transformative work in the field of human genetics, making it possible to trace heritable diseases in families and to create the DNA-based prenatal testing that is now commonplace for a variety of genetic disorders. He was the first scientist to diagnose human diseases using DNA. He also was the first to introduce DNA testing for prenatal diagnosis. Kan’s discovery of DNA polymorphism – the variation of a specific DNA sequence between individuals – forms the basis of the techniques of RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) and SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) and serves as the foundation of modern genetic analysis.
  • Vlahov, an epidemiologist who specializes in working with community partners to improve urban health, was recently named the first male dean of the UCSF School of Nursing. An expert in infectious diseases, substance abuse, and mental health, he has served as the senior vice president of research and director of the Center for Urban Epidemiologic Studies at the New York Academy of Medicine. Author of three books and some 600 scholarly papers, he is the founder and first president of the International Society for Urban Health, is an expert consultant to the World Health Organization’s Urban Health Center in Kobe, Japan, and served on the New York City Board of Health.
  • Von Zastrow studies "molecular choreography" in the brain — the organization, regulation and movement of molecules targeted by neurotransmitters and drugs. His laboratory discovered that when many of these receptors are activated by neurotransmitters, they physically move and change the information flow within and between neurons. Understanding the rules that govern these movements has opened a new area of neuropharmacology. For instance, the effect of drugs like morphine on the movement of opioid receptors is different than the movement caused by naturally occurring chemicals in the brain — this may help explain morphine’s powerful pain-killing and addictive effects.

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