University of California, San Diego


June 18, 2004


SUBJECT:    Appointment of Joan Heller Brown, Ph.D. as Chair of Pharmacology

It is my pleasure to announce the appointment of Joan Heller Brown, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, as chair of the UCSD School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology. A preeminent leader in American pharmacology, Dr. Heller Brown is an outstanding administrator and innovative researcher. She was chosen from a select group of candidates following a national search.

Dr. Heller Brown has served as interim chair of the department since November 2002, when former chair Palmer Taylor, Ph.D., was named founding dean of the new UCSD School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Cornell University, where she earned her B.A. degree in neurobiology, Dr. Heller Brown received her Ph.D. in pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her postdoctoral studies were completed at the University of Colorado. A member of the UCSD faculty since 1975, Dr. Heller Brown has served as chair of UCSD's Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, and as a member of the Faculty Council, the Faculty of Basic Biomedical Sciences Council, and the dean's Space Advisory Committee.

She was the recipient of an Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association (AHA) and has been appointed as Fellow of the AHA, as well as of the International Society for Heart Research. She has served on the Scientific Advisory Board for a number of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and on the editorial and advisory boards of numerous journals including the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Cellular Signaling, Circulation Research, Molecular Interventions and Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. She is an active member of the American Society for Experimental Therapeutics and served as editor of the Society's flagship journal, Molecular Pharmacology.

Dr. Heller Brown's research focuses on how neurotransmitters and other chemical mediators act on G-protein coupled receptors outside the cell to transduce signals that cause altered cell growth or survival. Her studies examine second messengers formed within the cell, including phospholipid metabolites, calcium, small GTP-binding proteins and a myriad of protein kinases.

She has made seminal contributions in the study of muscarinic, thrombin and lysophosholipid receptors, on the Gq , G12 and Rho proteins, and on MAP kinase, CaM kinase and Akt signaling pathways. Normal and pathophysiological signaling through these pathways regulates myocyte growth responses involved in cardiovascular diseases such as cardiac hypertrophy, hypertension and heart failure, as well as astrocyte proliferation and migration, responses critical to neurological diseases including glial tumor formation and recovery from neuronal cell injury.

She has published more than 140 papers and reviews in major journals and contributed chapters to the textbooks Basic Neurochemistry, Goodman and Gilman's Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics and Braunwald's Molecular Basis of Cardiovascular Disease, a companion to Braunwald's Heart Disease.

The Department of Pharmacology, ranked first among pharmacology departments nationally in the amount of grant support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), became the School of Medicine's first basic science department 18 years ago. The department is renowned for its strength in elucidating basic cellular and molecular mechanisms that lead to drug target identification and ultimately to drug discovery and design. Among the department's 19 full-time and 16 adjunct faculty are three Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators and seven members of the National Academy of Science. Much of the department's research focus impacts directly on human health, as is reflected by substantial NIH grant support for research on the genetics of hypertension, cardiovascular regulation, nuclear oncogenes, and neurological and inflammatory diseases.

The department's principal academic responsibilities include instruction and mentoring of medical students, as well as Ph.D. students in the Biomedical Sciences graduate program. A joint endeavor with the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry leads to an undergraduate major in pharmacological chemistry. During Dr. Heller Brown's tenure as interim chair, the departments formalized their faculty affiliation, bringing additional strength in biochemical and analytical technologies to the pharmacology department.

The department's research directions have expanded over the last decade to increase the emphasis on computational and molecular approaches, catalyzed by the department's close affiliation with the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and to focus on structure-based drug design and bioinformatics. Cross-campus efforts in environmental health sciences and pharmacogenomics have been launched through major NIH-funded project grants. Additional affiliations with adjunct faculty at the Salk Institute, the Scripps Research Institute, the Burnham Institute, and the appointment of adjunct faculty from the local biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry supports cross fertilization and communication, with the ultimate goal of building on the department's academic basic science findings to improve efforts in drug discovery. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Heller Brown on her appointment. We are most fortunate to have her leadership in the Department of Pharmacology.

Edward W. Holmes
Vice Chancellor, Health Sciences
Dean, School of Medicine