August 11, 2000

Hamm named to lead VUMC Pharmacology department

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Heidi Hamm, Ph.D.

Hamm named to lead VUMC Pharmacology department

Heidi E. Hamm, Ph.D., professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry at the Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience, has been named chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She will assume the new position October 1, 2000, pending Medical Center Board approval.

“I am excited that someone whose research is internationally recognized for such quality and rigor and whose vision for the future of research in Pharmacology is so bold will be our new leader,” said Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research, professor of Pharmacology and former chair of the department.

Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of Pharmacology, echoed those sentiments.

“There is no doubt that Heidi is a fabulous recruit for our department,” Sanders-Bush said. “It’s a real coup to get her, and her research dovetails perfectly with what’s going on in the department.”

Hamm takes the reins of a department that has, for the past four years, ranked first or second among the nation’s Pharmacology departments in National Institutes of Health funding. Hamm relishes the challenge of maintaining that level of excellence and leading the department forward.

“I am very pleased and excited about moving to Vanderbilt and the Pharmacology department. This is one of the premiere Pharmacology departments in the country, and it is a great honor to be chosen to lead it,” Hamm said.

“The vision will be to build an even stronger scientific environment and create a twenty-first century Pharmacology department that is indisputably the best in the country.”

Hamm’s research has focused on molecular switches called “G proteins”—the middlemen in the process of transferring signals across the cell membrane. They switch on when signals like hormones interact with cell surface receptors.

They switch off after passing the signal on to the next protein in the chain.

G protein-controlled signals are key to numerous physiological processes, and in the brain, many neurotransmitters work by activating G protein cascades. The importance of G proteins is further underscored by the fact that more than half of the drugs in the pharmaceutical armamentarium are directed at receptors that control G proteins.

Hamm has used various techniques to study G proteins and their interactions with receptors. She and the late Paul Sigler, Ph.D. were the first to solve the structure of a G protein subunit, and her current experiments are designed based on structural information.

“Heidi is someone who bridges a number of disciplines and experimental approaches in a very scholarly fashion,” said Lawrence J. Marnett, Ph.D., Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research and chair of the search committee.

“She has a unique mixture of skills that will enable her to reach out to many other programs at Vanderbilt.”

Her appointment makes a statement about Pharmacology as a discipline, Marnett said.

“It defines Pharmacology to be at the intersection of functional analysis, structural biology, biological chemistry, and clinical applications.

“Someone who’s been as interactive and interdisciplinary as Heidi can appreciate and maximize all of the opportunities for interactions,” he said.

Hamm received her doctoral degree in Zoology at the University of Texas-Austin in 1980.

Following postdoctoral training at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she joined the department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She moved to Northwestern University in 1996.

Hamm has received a National Science Foundation Research Opportunities for Women Career Development Award and a Glaxo Cardiovascular Discovery Award.

She was a Robert H. Mitchel University Scholar in 1995 and was 1996 Faculty of the Year at the University of Illinois.

She currently serves on the External Advisory Board of Scientific Councilors for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and in the past has served as Biophysical Society Councilor and as chair of the Program Committee and Secretary for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.