Joseph DeRisi Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

By Nicholas Weiler

Portrait of Joe DeRisi
Joseph L. DeRisi, PhD

Joseph L. DeRisi, PhD, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors accorded to an American scientist.

The honor recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research — in DeRisi’s case, as a disease detective who uses groundbreaking genomic technology to understand and seek cures for a wide variety of infectious diseases.

DeRisi, who was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2004, came to UCSF in 1999 as one of the first generation of independent Sandler Fellows, chosen for their innovative pursuit of “blue-sky” science. At UCSF, he has dedicated half his lab to studying malaria, one of the world’s most deadly diseases, recently yielding a promising clinical drug candidate for this devastating disease.

The other half of DeRisi’s lab has focused on developing technologies to try to solve a wide variety of medical and biological mysteries, from the causes of lethal brain infections in humans to the origins of honey bee colony collapse. Among his other achievements is the invention of the ViroChip, a device capable of identifying all known — and unknown — viruses in a single test, which DeRisi and colleagues first used in 2003 to help identify the SARS coronavirus. Now he is working to advance the clinical use of next-generation genomic technologies to rapidly screen for the root causes of brain infections, or encephalopathies (such as this widely reported case, conducted in collaboration with Charles Chiu, PhD, DeRisi’s former postdoc and now an associate professor of laboratory medicine at UCSF), and studying emerging viruses such as Zika.

DeRisi’s election brings the total number of past and present UCSF members of the esteemed scientific academy to 50. This year's class, which the Academy announced May 3, 2016, comprises 84 new members and 21 foreign associates. The Academy currently has 2,291 total active members and 465 foreign associates, including this year's designees.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), and National Research Council — provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

The new members will be formally inducted during next year's NAS Annual Meeting. Further information can be found at the Academy's website.