2003 University Lecture
Crossing the Watershed: Biological and Other Worlds in the Post-Genomic Era
Presented by Charles Delisi
Arthur G.B. Metcalf Professor of Science and Engineering,
Senior Associate Provost for Biosciences, and Dean Emeritus, College of Engineering
Monday, October 20, 2003
Tsai Performance Center
Charles DeLisi grew up in the Bronx with his maternal grandparents, and was educated in the New York City Public Schools, earning his Bachelor’s Degree from CCNY in 1963. After receiving his PhD in Physics from NYU, he spent three years as an NIH post-doctoral fellow in the Yale Chemistry Department, and was also a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Engineering and Applied Science. From 1972 to 1977 he was a staff scientist in the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he developed an interest in immunology under the influence of the theoretical physicist G I Bell. In 1975 he was invited to NIH as a visiting scientist, continuing a change in career path from physics to biology. In 1977, the year he was tenured at NIH, he was appointed Founding Chief of the Section on Theoretical Immunology. In 1978 he was promoted to full professor equivalency, and subsequently became head of Mathematical Biology. In the late 70s, he established mathematically, several years in advance of experimental verification, that signal transduction by growth factor receptors is mediated by dimerization. In the early 80s DeLisi , Kanehisa and Klein were the first to identify protein motifs and use them as rapid predictors of generic function. At about the same time he and Jay Berzofsky developed the amphipathic hypothesis and established its mathematical foundation. This enabled its use as an effective method to predict T cell antigenicity, while at the same time providing strong support for the notion that T cell receptor recognition involves formation of a ternary molecular complex.
Dr DeLisi left NIH in 1985 to accept the Directorship of the Department of Energy’s Health and Environmental Research Programs, where he was responsible for biological and environmental research at the National Laboratories. During his two years as Director, he reversed a declining budget, leaving it at approximately $360 million per year, some 25% higher than when he arrived. In 1990, after 2 _ years as a Professor and Department Chair at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York he joined Boston University as Dean of the College of Engineering and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, holding the former position for more than 10 years. During that time he established the Molecular Engineering Research Laboratory, where his students and postdocs pioneered the development of flexible docking methods and their application to cellular immunology. In 1998 he was appointed Arthur GB Metcalf Professor of Science and Engineering, and in 2001 he was appointed Professor of Physics.
Professor DeLisi has lectured widely on science and science policy, giving more than 150 invited lectures at universities and at national and international conferences. He has authored or co-authored more than 200 research papers in leading scientific journals in biophysics, mathematics, genomics, immunology, and chemistry. He also holds 5 patents, and is co-founder of two Biotech start-ups, Pharmadyne Inc, and Boston Array Technologies, Inc. the former focused on AIDS and other viral diseases; the latter on proteomics. He has served on dozens of Federal, industrial and university advisory boards including the Steering Committee of Brookhaven National Laboratory; the Board of Scientific Counselors, NCBI, NIH (Chair); The Human Genome Center, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory; the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment Committee on Computer Infrastructure; National Institute of Standards and Technology R&D Futures Committee; The Science Advisory Board, Physiome Sciences Inc; and the Santa Fe Institute Science Board.
Professor DeLisi is Fellow of the AAAS and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers, and recipient of numerous awards including the Smithsonian Platinum Technology Laureate for Pioneering Leadership, the Department of Energy’s Distinguished Associate Award from Secretary Elliot Richardson, and the Presidential Citizens Medal, awarded to him by President Clinton for initiating the Human Genome Project. He is founder and Director of the BU Center for Advanced Genomic Technology and Head of the Laboratory of Cell Systems Biology. Professor DeLisi continues to assist the University with administrative matters, being Senior Associate Provost for Biosciences, and founder and Director of the BU Graduate Program in Bioinformatics, which now has grown to the largest such program in the world, with more than 100 students and. 50 faculty. His wife, Dr. Lynn DeLisi, is Professor of Psychiatry at NYU, his son Daniel is a city planner in SW Florida, and his daughter Jacqueline is a doctoral student at the BU School of Education.