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School of Medicine

La Spada Appointed Chief of Genetics

Albert R. La Spada, MD, PhD

Albert R. La Spada, MD, PhD

Albert R. La Spada, MD, PhD, has been selected as the chief of the Division of Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics, effective July 1. He will also hold a joint appointment in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.

La Spada comes to UC San Diego from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, where he began as a resident in 1993. La Spada was a professor in the Division of Medical Genetics in the Department of Medicine, the Division of Neurogenetics in the Department of Neurology, and Department of Laboratory Medicine. He also directed the Center for Neurogenetics & Neurotherapeutics at the University of Washington, and was in charge of the Genetics Core at the Center for Human Development & Disability, a program funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

A very accomplished clinician and scientist, La Spada is best known for his 1991 discovery of the first trinucleotide repeat disease mutation, setting an entirely new field of research into motion. He studies how neurons degenerate and why the degeneration is restricted to certain cell types in different diseases. Specifically, he is interested in molecular and genetic factors that affect neuron degeneration in spinocerebellar ataxia type 7, spinal & bulbar muscular atrophy, Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. He is board certified in clinical pathology, clinical genetics and clinical molecular genetics.

La Spada received his undergraduate degree as well as his MD and a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon his graduation in 1993, he became a resident in Laboratory Medicine at the University of Washington. He then pursued training as a clinical genetics fellow and neurogenetics fellow in the Division of Medical Genetics there, and completed post-doctoral training in the Department of Pharmacology as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellow.

La Spada’s awards include the Robert M. Toll Prize for meritorious original research, the medical student Award for Excellence from the American Federation for Clinical Research and the Upjohn Achievement Award for Excellence in Biomedical Research.   In 2002, he was selected as a Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholar by the American Federation for Aging Research. In 2006, he was inducted into the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and in 2007, received the prestigious Lieberman Award from the Hereditary Disease Foundation.

A widely published researcher, La Spada serves on the editorial board of the journals Human Molecular Genetics and Molecular Brain. He is a scientific advisory board member of the Kennedy’s Disease Association and on the American Federation for Aging Research’s national Scientific Advisory Council for Research Funding. Earlier this year, he was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hereditary Disease Foundation.

“We are truly fortunate that Dr. La Spada will be leading the Division of Genetics, as the Department of Pediatrics faces the challenge of integrating advances in basic research into the practice of clinical medicine,” said Gabriel G. Haddad, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego.

La Spada will work closely with the newly created Institute for Genomic Medicine to build an internationally renowned human genetics program at UC San Diego and establish a new paradigm for human genetics research and medical genomics practice.