Jacobson, Brown invested as named professors

By Kristen O’Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

September 13, 2012
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Chancellor Collins (left) and Robert H. Brown, Jr., DPhil, PhD (right) are joined by members of the LaChance family.

The two distinguished faculty members invested as named professors at the 2012 Investiture ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 13, offered thanks to the donors for their essential support of UMMS and its mission. Allan Jacobson, PhD, chair and professor of microbiology & physiological systems, was invested as the Gerald L. Haidak, MD, and Zelda S. Haidak Professor of Cell Biology, and Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, chair and professor of neurology, was invested as the Leo P. and Theresa M. LaChance Chair in Medical Research.

 

“I sincerely appreciate the Haidak family generous gift and I assure you it will help me pursue research problem that might otherwise have been out of reach,” said Dr. Jacobson, who joined UMMS in 1973.

The Gerald L. Haidak and Zelda S. Haidak Distinguished Professorship in Cell Biology was established in 1999 to memorialize the late Gerald Haidak, MD, professor of surgery and cell biology and associate dean for special projects at UMMS.

Jacobson is recognized as a world leader in the study of messenger RNA (mRNA) decay. His work addresses one of the key overlap areas between cell biology and molecular biology, namely how mRNAs undergo “quality control” as they traffic from the nucleus to the cytosol or rough endoplasmic reticulum for translation on ribosomes. His pioneering work on the mechanisms of “non-sense mediated decay” made this critical tie and explained a previously mysterious phenomenon: why mRNA levels as well as protein levels decrease when stop mutations occur in genes.

 

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Allan Jacobson, PhD (right) is greeted by Chancellor Collins.

“This moment is truly a highlight of my four years at UMass Medical School. A perfect setting in fact, in which to affirm that it is a great privilege to belong to the faculty here,” said Dr. Brown, co-director of the Neurotherapeutics Institute. “I did not have the privilege of meeting Mr. Leo LaChance, but I know that he, his wife and his family exemplify the power of philanthropy to improve our lives.”

 

The LaChance Chair was established in 2005. It supports a senior physician or researcher overseeing or conducting research in neurology, mental retardation or mental illness. Brown, is the leading expert on the cause and treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and is dedicated to finding a cure. Since joining UMMS from Harvard Medical School, he has focused on RNA interference and gene-based therapies for familial cases of ALS due to mutations in SOD1, a gene whose causal association with ALS he first discovered.

As is tradition, Chancellor Michael F. Collins concluded the ceremony by having all the named professors in the audience stand and be recognized. UMMS currently has 32 named professorships that increase the institution’s ability to attract and retain individuals distinguished in their fields. Named professorships also provide an opportunity for donors to contribute to the enrichment and vitality of the academic and scientific environment.