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Giacomini to receive North American Scientific Achievement Award
By Grant Burningham / Tue Sep 5, 2017
Kathy Giacomini, PhD, a leader in the field of pharmacogenomics, has been named the 2017 recipient of the North American Scientific Achievement Award, presented by the International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX). ISSX is an international association of scientists that promotes the understanding of the interactions of medicines and chemicals with living systems.
“What makes it so special to me is that I was nominated by friends and colleagues,” Giacomini says.
Given in honor of biochemist Ronald W. Estabrook, PhD, who investigated drug-metabolizing enzymes, the award will be presented to Giacomini at the 21st North American ISSX Meeting on September 27, where she will also deliver a lecture.
“Kathy Giacomini is not just a frontier woman scientist—she is a frontier scientist, driving research within the transporter area worldwide,” her nomination reads. “She is well respected by all of her colleagues and is always renewing her work to the front-line and highest-quality projects possible.”
ISSX highlighted Giacomini’s work on transporters, cell proteins that regulate the passage of molecules, including drugs, across cell membranes. Transporters have long been used to deliver drugs inside cells, but one of Giacomini’s key insights was that transporters could themselves be targets for drugs in order to treat disease.
Targeting transporters has proven to be a novel approach, spawning several new drugs. One drug treats diabetes by limiting glucose uptake in the kidneys by way of transporters, thus lowering glucose levels in the bloodstream. Another drug limits uric acid reabsorption by targeting transporters as a treatment for gout, a condition caused by excess uric acid.
In addition to originating new classes of drugs, research on transporters proved critical in the study of interactions between drugs. Giacomini co-founded the International Transporter Consortium, which works with the FDA to set standards for drugs that work on certain transporters, and which could cause complications when taken with other medications.
Giacomini has also studied genetic polymorphism in transporters and how individual genetics affect how people respond to certain drugs. There is even the possibility that transporters could be used in the future to selectively deliver toxic drugs like chemotherapy only to cancer cells, leaving healthy cells untouched.
Giacomini is a faculty member and vice chair in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine. She served as department chair from 1998 to 2009 (when the department was called Biopharmaceutical Sciences), and then as co-chair, with Sarah Nelson, PhD, from 2009 to 2014, after the formation of the new joint department.
She is the founding co-director of the UCSF-Stanford Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI), a collaborative effort that researches methods and technology to improve the safety and efficacy of drug and medical device testing.
She is also the co-founder and scientific advisor of Apricity Therapeutics, a company which hopes to use transporters to treat pediatric cancer and orphan diseases, relatively rare ailments that are often neglected in research funding.
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.