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Stanford Report, April 28, 1999

Blau named Baxter professor of Pharmacology


Helen M. Blau, PhD, professor and chair of molecular pharmacology, has been named the new Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Professor of Pharmacology, effective April 1. Blau's research has had a major impact on the understanding of how cells become and remain differentiated during development. Her experiments demonstrated that the differentiated state, rather than being fixed and irreversible, is dynamic and requires continuous regulation. Her research challenged the prevailing dogma that once differentiated, cell function and gene expression could not easily be changed.

Molecular pharmacologist Tag E. Mansour, PhD, who has held the post since being named the first Baxter chair in 1978, will now become Baxter professor emeritus. Mansour, a member of the Stanford medical faculty since 1961, retired in December.

Blau, director of Gene Therapy Technology at Stanford, organized the Medical School's first gene therapy symposium, which was held in March and featured presentations by renowned geneticists and developmental biologists from around the world. Blau was also instrumental in bringing about a $5 million collaborative initiative between France-based pharmaceutical company Rhône-Poulenc Rorer/Gencell and Stanford. Through the initiative, Stanford has been awarded four major research grants this year and received funding for eight gene therapy research projects last year.

Among the current work being conducted in Blau's lab is a novel gene therapy approach that helps create blood vessel structures similar to those produced during embryonic development. The technique holds promise for clinical applications for diabetes and heart disease.

Blau, who was born in London and received her undergraduate degree from the University of York, UK, obtained her doctorate from Harvard University in 1975. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the division of medical genetics, departments of biochemistry and biophysics, at the University of California, San Francisco. She joined the Stanford medical faculty in 1978 and became a tenured associate professor in 1986. She was promoted to professor in 1991 and was named chair of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology in March 1997.

Blau is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also serves on the board of the American Society of Gene Therapy. Blau received the 1999 Excellence in Science Award from the 55,000 member Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology for her pioneering research.

The Baxter professorship was established in 1972 with funds provided by the Baxter Foundation of Los Angeles. The chair was endowed by Delia Baxter in honor of her late husband, a distinguished physician, engineer and scientist who pioneered the commercial preparation of intravenous solutions. Dr. Baxter, who was born in 1882 and died in 1935, received his medical degree from the University of Louisville in 1909.

He served in World War II with the American Red Cross and oversaw the tuberculosis hospitals in France. After the War, he practiced at the Rockefeller Hospital in Peking, China, during which time both China and India experienced major cholera epidemics, resulting in the deaths of many victims from dehydration. Baxter realized that injecting vital solutions directly into the bloodstream could have combated the dehydration, but intravenous fluids were not generally available then in either China or the United States. He returned to the United States in 1921 determined to remedy this critical problem. After many years of research, he developed the technology that led to safe commercially prepared solutions and made possible today's widespread use of intravenous therapy. SR