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2009 Dean’s Postdoctoral Prize Winner: Joseph Sun

The Dean’s Postdoctoral Prize Lecture is awarded to a UCSF postdoctoral fellow each year. The purpose of the award is to recognize the outstanding creative and independent research efforts of postdoctoral scholars and to highlight the contributions that postdoctoral scholars make to the scientific community. We are pleased to announce this year's winner, Dr. Joseph Sun. Dr. Sun will receive a $1,000 cash prize and will present his research to the UCSF community on Tuesday, February 24th at both the Parnassus and Mission Bay campuses.

Dr. Sun joined the laboratory of Dr. Lewis Lanier as a postdoctoral fellow in 2006 and has since discovered novel features of natural killer (NK) cells, components of the innate immune response. After exposure to a pathogen, NK cells demonstrate a self-renewing memory that can last for months after infection, his research has shown. These results provide a new paradigm for innate immunity, which was previously thought to only mediate short-lived, broad, non-adaptive immune responses. In addition to other recent publications, this research has been featured in Nature and USA Today. Currently, Dr. Sun’s work focuses on the mechanism of NK cell memory formation.

This work has broad implications for our understanding of the immune system and our ability to exploit it to better protect against infectious disease.

In the nomination materials, Dr. Sun was hailed as a collaborative and supportive scientist, clearly meriting the Dean’s Postdoctoral Prize. He is considered an outstanding postdoctoral scholar by his peers and mentors, and has provided an intellectual driving force for this seminal research.

2008 Dean’s Postdoctoral Prize Lecture: Sergio Peisajovich
In 2008, the Dean's Postdoctoral Prize was given to Sergio Peisajovich. A second prize was also awarded to Andrew Ewald (see below). Sergio received a cash prize of $1000 and presented his research to the UCSF community on Tuesday, February 26th, 2008.

Sergio Peisajovich is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Wendell Lim, where he is currently studying how evolution re-wires complex signaling networks. He led the 2007 UCSF team that finished among the top-6 finalists in the Synthetic Biology Annual Competition (iGEM) organized by MIT. The goal of the iGEM competition, which in 2007 included 54 teams from all over the world, is to demonstrate that biology, although very complex, can be approached as an engineering discipline. The UCSF team led by Sergio included other 15 members, 6 of which were high school students from public schools in the Bay Area. The team chose to engineer cellular spatial localization, by taking the first steps towards the creation of a synthetic organelle.   Their work was recently featured in an article on the UCSF Today website and in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Novel compartments within eukaryotic cells would be ideal for isolating synthetic biology processes that involve fragile or toxic compounds, such as the cellular production of drugs or biofuels. 

Sergio represents the type of scientist that the Dean’s Prize Lecture was established to recognize.  He is “an outstanding postdoc” who was nominated and chosen for the Dean’s prize because of his commitment to research and because he sets a wonderful example of a scientist who contributes to the overall scientific community.  He was “a superb mentor to the team members” and “was the intellectual force behind the design of the synthetic organelle that was so well received at this year’s competition”.

This year a second prize was awarded to Andrew Ewald, a postdoctoral fellow in Zena Werb's lab, who is studying normal and neoplastic epithelial growth and invasion.  He combines 3D organotypic culture with confocal timelapse microscopy and pharmacologic and genetic interventions to determine the cell behavioral basis of epithelial growth and invasion and the regulation of cell behaviors by matrix metalloproteinases and Rac and Rho GTPases.  His movies reveal a novel mechanism for collective cell movement in which the epithelium grows through dramatic, reversible changes in proliferation, tissue architecture, and epithelial polarity, but without many of the classic features of cell motility such as forward oriented protrusive activity.  He is currently extending his work on normal morphogenesis to mouse models of breast cancer and to 3D organotypic cultures of primary human mammary epithelium.

Please direct inquiries to: Abigail Kroch, Director, Office of Postdoctoral Education:







Past Recipients

2009 winner:


Joseph Sun

2008 winner:

SergioSergio Peisajovich

2007 winner: Ya-Lin Chiu

2006 winner: Marco Vignuzzi