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Fraser named chair of UCSF Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
By Suzan Revah / Tue Aug 8, 2023
James Fraser, PhD, has been named the new chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences (BTS). The appointment is effective August 1, 2023.
Fraser has served as vice dean of research for the UCSF School of Pharmacy since 2022 and has been a professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the UCSF Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, since 2013. He is also a faculty affiliate of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3).
BTS faculty explore the complex processes of biology to answer pressing scientific questions, from how an individual’s genetic profile affects drug response to how nanotechnology can be used to build devices that replace the function of diseased organs. Using advanced computational and experimental tools, BTS researchers work at the intersection of basic science and patient care. They apply results from the lab to the development and rational use of precise therapeutics to improve health.
Fraser’s research looks at proteins and RNA as dynamic molecules. “I’m interested in relating how the movements of these molecules govern their function, by trying to move our research from static photos to molecular movies,” he said. He is also active in advocacy around open science and scientific publishing, serving on the board of ASAPbio, a scientist-driven non-profit promoting transparency and innovation in life science communication.
“James is a natural choice based on the quality of his scientific contributions, the significance of the potential impacts of these contributions, and the novelty of his approaches to discovery,” said Kathy Giacomini, PhD, BSPharm, dean of the UCSF School of Pharmacy. “Importantly, he cares about mentoring students and faculty, and has been a strong advocate for diversity in the department, school, and campus.”
Fraser said he is excited to build on the department’s strengths in computational biology by identifying ways that transformative advances in AI can accelerate the pace of scientific discovery.
His appointment to chair comes on the heels of authoring a paper, in collaboration with Salesforce Research, about an AI system capable of generating artificial enzymes from scratch.
“AI can play a role in creating new opportunities at scientific interfaces across the broad range of research interests within our department,” he said.
As another priority, Fraser wants to ensure that the evaluation of research in hiring and promotion is consistent with Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) principles. He is particularly interested in the role of transparent and community peer review in scientific publishing. He also will ensure that contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to be highly valued by the department.
Fraser said he has had great role models in Deanna Kroetz, PhD; Tejal Desai, PhD; Sarah Nelson, PhD; and Giacomini as past chairs of the department during his time in BTS, and that he looks forward to more community-building in person as the department emerges from years of Zoom life.
As a first goal of community-building, Fraser said he is interested in figuring out how best to leverage the fact that the department acronym is also used by the popular K-pop group BTS.
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.