May 5, 2003

UCSD School of Medicine's Dennis Carson
Elected To National Academy of Sciences

Dennis A. Carson, M.D.

Dennis A. Carson, M.D., a professor of medicine, director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging (SIRA), and member of the Rebecca and John Moores University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Cancer Center at the UCSD School of Medicine, has been elected to membership in the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.

Also elected from San Diego was Fred H. Gage, Ph.D., a professor of genetics at the Salk Institute in La Jolla and a UCSD adjunct professor of neurosciences.

Carson and Gage join 70 other new members and 18 foreign associates from 11 countries who were recognized for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The National Academy of Sciences is a private scientific organization established in 1863 by an act of Congress to advise the government on science and technology.

Specializing in autoimmune diseases and cancers of the lymphoid system, Carson investigates the molecular abnormalities that cause immunologic diseases and cancer.

Early in his career, Carson developed the drug 2-chlorodeoxyadenosine, that is highly effective in the treatment of hairy cell leukemia, and other cancers of lymphocytes. Subsequently, he and his colleagues also isolated a defective gene called cyclin dependent kinase 4 inhibitor, that is involved in about one third of all cancers, including melanoma, brain cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and leukemia. When it functions normally, the gene suppresses tumors. When defective, the gene enables cancers to develop and spread. Working with Carlos Carrera, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Carson developed a drug treatment that preferentially kills cancer cells with the defective gene, without harming normal cells.

In collaborative studies with Eyal Raz, M.D., professor of medicine, Carson determined that microinjection of synthetic DNA, containing particular immunostimulatory sequences, suppresses allergic responses for prolonged periods, without further therapy. These agents are in clinical trials for the treatment of asthma and other allergic diseases.

Carson also determined how genes direct the production of autoantibodies by B lymphocytes in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This basic work was pivotal in the development of drugs that deplete B lymphocytes for the treatment of arthritis. Recent clinical trials indicate that these agents can substantially improve pain and inflammation in affected patients.

Carson is an example of a physician-scientist a doctor who uses his clinical knowledge to develop targeted research studies designed to bring new treatments for specific patient disorders.

In a 1999 interview in the SIRA Newsletter, he noted that "all of our research begins with the patient." He added that "the kind of research that we do, which can only be done in a research-oriented medical school, starts with patients, comes up with ideas, includes molecular research in the test tube, moves to animal experiments and then back to the patients."

Carson earned his medical degree in 1970 at Columbia University, and then completed his residency at UCSD Medical Center. Prior to joining UCSD, he was affiliated with Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation as division head of immunology.

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