Dr. Varki and the Fork in the Road

Dr. Ajit Varki, M.D., is a Professor of Medicine and Cellular & Molecular Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD)–School of Medicine. In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Varki adeptly wears many hats at the university.

Dr. Varki, an internationally recognized glycobiology expert, is Co-Director of the Glycobiology Research and Training Center (http://grtc.ucsd.edu) at UCSD. His research is at the forefront of advances in understanding glycans (cell-surface sugars) and their roles in complex biological processes such as cellular signaling and cell-to-cell adhesion. Dr. Varki has authored over 130 original research articles and 80 invited papers which have been widely read, and has lectured throughout the U.S., as well as Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America. He runs his research lab in collaboration with Nissi Varki, M.D., Professor of Medicine and Pathology at UCSD.

Professor Ajit Varki embodies many qualities of our excellent UCSD faculty, averaging one innovation disclosure a year that stems from his research. He has nineteen innovations registered with the campus and system-wide technology transfer offices. Dr. Varki holds US Patent No. 5,449,781, titled “Fluorescent or UV visualizable tagging agents for oligosaccharides.” A recent innovation disclosure involves the inhibition of selectin (cell-surface sugar) adhesion molecules which has potential applications in the prevention of inflammation or the metastasis of cancer cells. A new patent covering this invention will soon be issued and is titled “Inhibition of L-Selectin and P-Selectin Mediated Binding Using Heparin.”

In addition to the oncological facets of his research, Professor Varki is Coordinator for the UCSD Project for Explaining the Origin of Humans, that takes a multidisciplinary evolutionary approach to this fascinating problem. In an article published last year, Dr. Varki and his colleagues presented their research determining when humans genetically diverged from the apes. Collaborating with an international team of medical researchers and anthropologists, Dr. Varki and his colleagues used multiple approaches to analyze fossils and gene mutations, and concluded that one of the human genetic forks in the road from apes occurred about 2.8 million years ago.

Professor Varki began his UCSD career over twenty years ago. He received his medical training from the Christian Medical College in Vellore, Temple University in Philadelphia, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha; and his research training at Washington University in St. Louis.