YUET WAI KAN
PMWC 2014 PIONEER AWARD: The first to establish that a single DNA mutation could lead to a human disease, and the first to diagnose a human disease by using DNA
M.D., Louis K. Diamond Professor of Hematology Laboratory Medicine, UCSF
Dr. Kan pioneered the use of recombinant DNA and DNA cloning to diagnose thalassemia and sickle cell anemia at the molecular level, detecting the exact genetic mutations responsible for these disorders. He also discovered and described restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs), now known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which he employed to diagnose sickle cell anemia prenatally, and which eventually made human disease gene mapping possible. Kan earned his medical degree from the University of Hong Kong Medical School, and received clinical training in Hong Kong, the U.S. and Canada. During his training, he saw a patient with thalassemia – a genetic blood disorder that can cause anemia – sparking his research interest in genetics and hematology. After serving on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, Kan was recruited in 1972 as chief of the Hematology Service at San Francisco General Hospital, and became a Howard Hughes Investigator in 1976. Among his collaborators at UCSF were future Nobel laureates Harold Varmus, MD (now director of the National Cancer Institute), and J. Michael Bishop, MD (former chancellor of UCSF), and Herbert Boyer, PhD, who later cofounded Genentech. Kan has been honored by almost every scientific society, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Society of London. He has received many prestigious awards, including the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, and many others. He was elected as a member of the Institute of Medicine, and with Sir David Weatherall, MD, FRCP, FRS, most recently shared the Karl Landsteiner Award at the annual meeting of the American Association of Blood Banks.