Paul Gillespie FitzGerald, a nationally renowned molecular biologist and award-winning medical-education scholar, has been named the chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy at the UC Davis School of Medicine.
FitzGerald oversees more than 80 faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students conducting groundbreaking research into the underlying cellular and molecular causes of a host of diseases, with the aim of developing more targeted therapies to improve human health.
“Paul FitzGerald is a gifted and dedicated researcher committed to innovating fundamental science and translating basic research into relevant and timely solutions for patients,” said Claire Pomeroy, vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at UC Davis. “His tireless devotion to science and academic excellence is matched only by his commitment to educating the next generation of physicians to be culturally competent, socially aware providers capable of delivering world-class care.”
With more than $4.7 million in external research funding, the department conducts innovative studies in embryonic stem cells, cancer biology, vision science, neurodevelopment, intracellular protein trafficking, and cell-matrix interactions. Specific projects include understanding how fatty acids alter the metastasis of breast cancer, identifying the causes of embryonic death and certain birth defects, and introducing novel immunotherapies to alleviate burn-related infections and complications.
FitzGerald is an expert in the cellular and molecular biology of intermediate filaments, their role in the stabilization of cell and tissue structure, and how mutations in these proteins may result in protein-aggregation disease. More than 80 different human diseases, including many forms of dementia, result from mutations in intermediate- filament proteins, which cause protein aggregation. But the mechanism by which they cause disease remains unknown.
FitzGerald is the principal investigator for two long-term studies, both funded by the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health. The first focuses on the role of intermediate filaments in maintaining clarity in the lens of the eye, and how mutations in their genes can lead to cataracts. The second grant uses biophysical approaches to determine the structure of intermediate filaments, the proteins that comprise them, and how mutations alter function of these filaments, resulting in protein-misfolding diseases.
A member of the UC Davis faculty for more than 25 years, FitzGerald has published more than 50 original research articles and served on dozens of committees focused on advancing academic medicine. He joined UC Davis as an assistant professor of cell biology and human anatomy in 1984. After serving as an associate professor from 1991 until 1997, he was named a full professor in 1997. In 2006, FitzGerald was named the acting chair of the cell biology and human anatomy department.
While conducting innovative research at UC Davis, FitzGerald distinguished himself as a leading medical-education scholar, earning the university’s most prestigious teaching honors. In 1997, FitzGerald received the UC Davis Academic Senate Award for Teaching, a career award. In 2003, he received the C. John Tupper Prize for Teaching, the school’s highest award for teaching, also a career award. He is the six-time recipient of the Kaiser Award for Excellence in Teaching, most recently in 2009.
“UC Davis’ Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy has had an outstanding record in research, teaching and service of which I am extremely proud,” FitzGerald said. “I look forward to further creating an environment where scientists can have the best opportunity to make their contributions to improving human health through fundamental research.”
“Research has progressed to the point where it is increasingly likely that basic-science research labs such as ours will produce results that directly contribute to prevention, detection and treatment of human disease,” FitzGerald continued. “Our goal is to accelerate this process by creating an environment where the biologist, the clinician and the engineer all contribute their expertise to solving problems in human health.”
FitzGerald received his bachelor’s degree in physiology and anatomy from the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate in cell biology and anatomy at the University of California, Los Angeles. From 1982 to 1986, FitzGerald pursued postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School.
As chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy, FitzGerald receives an annual base salary of $181,600. Additional information about his compensation is available upon request.