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Phyllis Hanson, M.D., Ph.D. to lead U-M Department of Biological Chemistry

Acclaimed researcher joining Michigan Medicine from Washington University

Ann Arbor, MI

The U-M Board of Regents today approved the appointment of Phyllis Hanson, M.D., Ph.D. as the new U-M Medical School’s Department Chair for Biological Chemistry. She will begin her role on November 1.

Hanson joins a long line of illustrious researchers who served as leaders of one of the Medical School’s oldest departments, including Dr. Victor Vaughn, the first professor of biochemistry in a medical school in the United States.

Researchers within the department of biological chemistry focus on a broad swath of basic biological questions related to the study of enzymes, structural biology, signal transduction, development, neurobiology and the regulation of gene expression. Their interests in understanding molecular processes provide a foundation for advances in basic and translational biomedical science and support a broad portfolio of collaborations across the university.  Currently, the department has 23 primary faculty, is training over 50 graduate and postdoctoral students and teaches biochemistry to undergraduate, graduate, medical, nursing, and dental students.

Hanson comes to U-M from the Washington University School of Medicine, where she rose from assistant professor in 1997 to the prestigious Gerty T. Cori Professorship in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology in 2016. At Washington University, Hanson was noted for leading a major initiative to establish a centralized imaging center, improving graduate student education, and nurturing collaborative interactions among colleagues. “Biochemistry is central to understanding what happens inside and between cells, enabling development of new therapies for human disease,” she says. “I am thrilled to join and lead the Biological Chemistry department at a time when new technologies and insights are fueling rapid growth in the pace of discovery science. The opportunity to work with and support the exceptional community across U-M, along with the university’s strategic investments in basic and interdisciplinary science, promise a bright future.”

In addition to her appointment in Biological Chemistry, Hanson will have a joint appointment with U-M’s department of neurology. Her research focuses on understanding how proteins interact to regulate the structure and organization of cell membranes both inside and outside the cell, and has implications for understanding a wide range of diseases including among others neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and the debilitating movement disorder, dystonia. 

Hanson earned a B.A. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University, and Ph.D. and M.D. from the Stanford University School of Medicine. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Pharmacology at Yale. She is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and a member of the American Society of Cell Biology, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders at Washington University. Among her honors, she was a W.M. Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholar in Medical Research, received Searle, McKnight and Sloan scholar awards, and was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2016.

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