American Philosophical Society
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1Name:  Dr. Elaine Fuchs
 Institution:  Rockefeller University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute
 Year Elected:  2005
 Class:  2. Biological Sciences
 Subdivision:  202. Cellular and Developmental Biology
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Living
 Birth Date:  1950
Elaine Fuchs is a world leader in mammalian cell biology. She is internationally recognized for her outstanding and numerous contributions to skin biology and its human genetic disorders, including skin cancers and life-threatening genetic syndromes such as blistering skin disorders. For nearly three decades, Dr. Fuchs has focused on the molecular mechanisms that underlie development and differentiation of the epidermis and its appendages, and elucidating how perturbations of these mechanisms result in disease. She has systematically and brilliantly applied innovative approaches in biology, biochemistry and genetics. In doing so, Dr. Fuchs pioneered the use of "reverse genetics," an approach to start with a specific protein, study its biology and then use mice as a means to ultimately identify the genes responsible for inherited human disorders. A classical geneticist would start with a specific genetic disorder. Instead, Dr. Fuchs has employed this innovative cell biological approach to determine the genetic bases of numerous dermatological disorders in humans. The approach has since broadly benefited human medical genetics. Dr. Fuchs is widely recognized as having brought the field of dermatological research into modern day science. Her contributions are many, ranging from the identification of proteins and signal transduction pathways important in epidermal and hair functions to uncovering the molecular nature of skin diseases in humans. In addition, Dr. Fuchs and coworkers identified genetic defects in several disorders that arise from perturbations of cytoskeletal proteins related to those present in the skin, but whose expression resides outside the skin, particularly in the muscle and the nervous system. An elegant example of this is her use of reverse genetics to uncover the underlying genetic basis of blistering human skin disorder that arises from defects in epidermal keratin genes. Dr. Fuchs' 10 years of prior research set the groundwork for this discovery, which uncovered a key function of intermediate filament (IF) proteins as mechanical integrators of the cytoskeleton. The work also set the paradigm for more than 20 different human disorders of IF genes. Dr. Fuchs' ground-breaking research is often used in biology and medical textbooks as a landmark. Her science now focuses on understanding how tissues develop and dynamically respond to their environment. She has seamlessly transitioned from problems of signal transduction to transcriptional regulation and gene expression to the cytoskeleton and adhesion to stem cell lineage commitment. In the nineties, her team uncovered multiple roles for Wnt signaling in skin biology, discovering that sustained Wnt signaling can lead to stem cell activation and tumorigenesis. Their super-furry mice led them to identify stabilizing b-catenin mutations pilomatricomas, a human skin tumor. While b-catenin mutations had been previously linked to colon cancer, pilomatricomas represented the first example where b-catenin mutations are the leading cause of the tumor. Similarly, Dr. Fuchs' work on a-catenin provided insights into squamous cell carcinoma. The lab's transition from degenerative disorders to cancers has been a natural one, occurring concomitantly with their shift to tackling how growth and differentiation are balanced in stem cell lineage progression. Their recent work in isolating and characterizing the multipotent adult skin stem cells opens major new avenues for their future research in this area. Elaine Fuchs received her undergraduate degree with highest distinction in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1972). She received her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Princeton University (1977) and conducted her postdoctoral studies with Howard Green at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she began her research in skin biology. She joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1980, where she progressed to become Amgen Professor of Basic Sciences prior to leaving for Rockefeller University in 2002, where she is Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor. She has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1988. Dr. Fuchs is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She was President of the American Society of Cell Biology in 1991, and she holds an honorary doctorate from Mt. Sinai and New York University School of Medicine. Her scientific awards include the Richard Lounsbery Award (National Academy of Sciences), the Cartwright Award (Columbia University), the Novartis Award in Biomedical Research, the Dickson Prize in Medicine, the National Medal of Science, the 2010 L'Oreal-UNESCO prize, the 2012 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, the 2015 E. B. Wilson Medal, the 2016 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, the 2019 AACR-G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award, and the 2020 Canada Gairdner Award. She has trained more than 20 graduate students and has over 225 publications to her credit. Elaine Fuchs was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2005.
Election Year
2005 (1)