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UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System

Researcher takes unconventional path to medical career

Photo of researcher Frank Sharp
Frank Sharp, professor of neurology, uses microarray technolgy to identify the unique gentic markers of neuroldevelopmental disorders.

What's remarkable about how Frank Sharp came to be one of the top brain researchers in the country is that he did not begin his education with an interest in biology. That was until he graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor's degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. He realized that he wasn't as interested in building machines or electrical circuits as he was in understanding malfunctions of the human body. He decided to go to medical school rather than graduate school.

Sharp, who had not taken a single college course in biology, had a hard time at first keeping up at UC San Diego's School of Medicine. He eventually did very well, especially in neuroscience, and earned a prestigious internship at Duke University. After Duke, Sharp conducted research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where he chose to work with Ed Evarts and Louis Sokoloff — scientists making important discoveries in mapping brain function. That experience cemented his future in cutting-edge brain research.

“I just happened to be lucky enough to be in those labs,” he said.

Sharp went on to conduct basic scientific research at University of California campuses at San Diego and San Francisco and at the University of Cincinnati. But when his daughter suffered a brain hemorrhage due to a rare genetic disorder, Sharp felt compelled to change the focus of his research program.

“After her stroke, I just decided that I should do some things directly related to human disease,” he explained.

Photo of reseacher Frank Sharp and daugher
Frank Sharp with his daughter, Alison, who inspires much of his research.

The shift in his research program led Sharp back to UC Davis and its new M.I.N.D. Institute, where he is a professor of neurology. He notes that he is back to the starting point of his career in more ways than one.

“I actually am a mechanical engineer now, just in a different context,” he said. “I'm finding out how the human brain malfunctions and with that knowledge will hopefully learn how to fix it.”

When he is not in the lab, Sharp enjoys low-key activities, like walking the family's two dogs or reading Agatha Christie mystery novels. His wife, Leslie Drummond-Hay, who is also a medical doctor, and teenage children, Benjamin and Alison, have helped inspire his love of travel.

“Last year, we went to Yellowstone and saw almost every mammal that can be seen in the park. And we trekked all over heck and back to do that,” Sharp recalled. “It was a great trip.”