Elaine Fuchs is a world leader in skin biology and its human genetic disorders, which include skin cancers and life-threatening genetic syndromes such as blistering skin disorders. Fuchs focuses on the molecular mechanisms that underlie the development and differentiation of the epidermis and its appendages from multipotent stem cells. Throughout her studies, she has used the basic biology that she uncovers to elucidate how perturbations of these mechanisms result in disease. She has systematically applied molecular and genetic approaches to these problems. In doing so, Fuchs pioneered the use of “reverse genetics,” an unconventional and now textbook approach to start with understanding how proteins function and then work up to the human diseases they cause when defective. She initially conceived and applied this strategy to elucidate the functions and genetic basis of the first intermediate filament disorder, now a group of nearly 20 related but distinct human disorders that affect not only skin, but also muscle, the nervous system, liver and other tissues and organs of the body. More recently, she has applied her findings to devise approaches for identifying, isolating and characterizing the multipotent stem cells from skin and determine how they respond to various external cues to select their fates to become hair follicles, sebaceous glands or epidermis. In facing the problem of progressing from a stem cell to a tissue, Fuchs’ laboratory now tackles how cells coordinate changes in transcription, cell polarity, adhesion and cytoskeletal dynamics. She has greatly accelerated the transition of dermatology into a modern day science, and takes an active interest in how her research can be used in a clinical setting. She has published over 250 papers, mostly in high profile scientific and medical journals.
Fuchs received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Princeton University in 1977. She conducted postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the laboratory of Howard Green. In 1980, she joined the faculty at the University of Chicago. When she left Chicago to accept a position at The Rockefeller University in 2002, Fuchs was the Amgen Professor of Basic Sciences and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Fuchs’ many awards and honors include the Presidential Young Investigator Award, the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the Novartis-Drew Award for Biomedical Research, the Dickson Prize in Medicine, the FASEB Award for Scientific Excellence and the Beering Award. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and she holds honorary doctorates from Mt. Sinai/New York University School of Medicine and from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Fuchs is also a past President of the American Society of Cell Biology.