THE VISIONARIES Who Are Mapping New Terrain to Navigate New Ways out of Disease
U C SF MAGAZINE | Summer 2018
Huang’s universe is vastly larger. He studies the human proteome, which consists of all the proteins expressed by a genome, cell, tissue, or organism. As an investigator with the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, he is part of an effort to label each and every protein produced by a human gene and to track its function. Huang, who is also a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry and this year’s recipient of the Byers Award in Basic Science, decodes life by building better microscopes. He pioneered the development and application of super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, which enabled humankind to visualize overall cell function and the dynamics of the molecules within the cell. He recently rocked the field by tagging the DNA within genes using the CRISPR gene editing tool, so that scientists can now identify and track genes’ specific function with fluorescence microscopy. Fresh tracks, new territory, boundless potential. CAMPAIGN.UCSF.EDU
IMAGE: WILLSEY LAB
Through side-by-side comparison of typical versus genetically altered brain development in frogs, Helen Willsey’s work could reveal where, how, and when autism sets in so it can be stopped before it starts.
Helen Willsey, PhD, and Bo Huang, PhD, are next-gen cartographers. Each charts infinitesimal territory to reveal the mechanics of disease. Willsey’s and Huang’s work perfectly exemplifies “Decoding Life to Improve Health,” one of the three grand challenges targeted by UCSF: The Campaign. Willsey’s frontier is the brain. She’s a member of the Psychiatric Cell Mapping Initiative, which seeks to chart the function of genes involved in every psychiatric disorder – starting with autism – so we can understand mental health on a molecular level. A postdoctoral scholar and member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, Willsey devised the perfect model of autism in a frog and now tests how and where genes associated with autism affect the developing brain. She chose to study frogs because she can genetically alter just one side of a frog brain while leaving the other side untouched as a control.