The University of California, San Diego, has chosen molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Staal as the first recipient of its newly endowed Florence Seeley Riford Chair for AIDS Research. Wong-Staal will become the Florence Seeley Riford Chair Professor in the university's departments of biology and medicine.
After 16 years at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., Wong-Staal officially became the Riford chair professor at UC-San Diego on January 1. She plans to set up a collaborative program for developing vaccines against the AIDS virus, as well as to continue her research on the genes that regulate the reproduction and activity of the virus. She says one aspect of her research will involve a quest for "understanding how the AIDS virus works by focusing on regulation. There are many novel features of [the AIDS virus], including many different genes." Secondly, she says that she wants to "apply that technique and approach to vaccine development" through the use of animal models and genetic manip- ulations.
Born in China in 1946 and now a U.S. citizen, Wong-Staal earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1972, and then spent a year doing postdoctoral research at UC-San Diego. From there she went to the National Cancer Institute, where she worked closely with Robert Gallo, who isolated the human leukemia viruses HTLV I and HTLV II and codiscovered HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS. Since 1982, she has served as chief of the section on Molecular Genetics of Hematopoietic Cells. In 1984 Wong-Staal cloned HIV and was the first to analyze its molecular makeup (Hahn, B.H., et al., Nature, 312:166-9, 1984). Her pioneering work helped to reveal the complexity of the AIDS virus.
While Wong-Staal acknowledges that determining when an AIDS vaccine may be found is "difficult," she is optimistic that near-future success in her quest is likely: "There is progress in labs around the world," she says. "The time is now right."
The endowed chair was made possible by the sale of commercial real estate donated to UC-San Diego for that purpose in 1986 by 98-year-old La Jolla, Calif., philanthropist Florence Seeley Riford.