Dean Frank LaFerla — Ellis Island Medal of Honor
The story of Frank M. LaFerla, PhD, Dean of the UCI School of Biological Sciences and a Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, is one with which many Americans are familiar.
Born to Italian immigrants and raised in Philadelphia, he grew up acutely aware of the opportunities available to those who challenged and applied themselves.
As a biology major and medical school hopeful at St. Joseph’s University, he was introduced to research, which would augment and later define his career. His passion for discovery and understanding the intricacies of biological mechanisms then took him to the University of Minnesota, where he received his PhD in microbiology.
Dean LaFerla’s career focus became even more clear following his mother’s brain tumor diagnosis and subsequent dementia. Knowing breakthroughs in disease management are found in research labs rather than hospitals, Dean LaFerla set out to conduct Alzheimer’s and neurological disease research.
In 1995, he joined UCI as an assistant professor and later served as director of the UCI Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND), where his unwavering dedication to this research has both earned him recognition and progressed the entire field of Alzheimer’s research. One such achievement was the development of engineered mice whose brains developed the same plaques and tangles found in humans with the disease. This advancement alone has allowed researchers the world over to study the progression of this disease in real time.
Dean LaFerla continued his simultaneous rise as an Alzheimer’s researcher — including being listed among the top 1% cited researchers — and as a leader at UCI, where he became chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in 2011 and dean of the School of Biological Sciences in 2014.
Today, in addition to his ongoing research efforts, Dean LaFerla makes a point to celebrate school faculty and their work, as it is through biology that many of the problems facing society can be solved. Additionally, as a first-generation American and the first in his family to pursue an advanced degree, Dean LaFerla has made a concerted effort along with campus and school leaders to find new ways to support the academic success of students from every background.
To learn more about the UCI School of Biological Sciences, click here.