Utpal Banerjee, Ph.D.

Utpal Banerjee, Ph.D. 

Co-Director, UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center; Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Professor, Life Sciences; Distinguished Professor, Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology, Biological Chemistry

Bio

Utpal Banerjee, Ph.D., studies how cell signaling and metabolic control influence blood-forming stem cells, which can self-renew and differentiate to create all blood and immune cell types. He is particularly interested in how these factors influence blood-forming stem cells’ development and response to stressors, including cancer. The Banerjee lab primarily uses the fruit fly Drosophila as a model since it shares many molecular and genetic similarities to the human innate immune system, which is the body's first line of defense against infections and injuries. Through this research, Banerjee hopes to uncover insights into blood-forming stem cells' role in a number of human diseases and disorders including cancer, type II diabetes and obesity.

Banerjee’s current research focuses on identifying how the microenvironments, also called 'niches,' that support and surround blood-forming stem cells help them retain their stemness, or ability to self-renew and give rise to specific cell types. His lab showed that the stemness of blood-forming stem cells is maintained through the combined action of signaling between blood-forming stem cells and their niche and signals back to blood-forming stem cells from the differentiated cells they have created. His team termed this combined action the “equilibrium signal.” Several important concepts underlying fruit fly blood development have allowed the Banerjee lab to propose this system as an appropriate genetic model for the formation of blood and immune cells in vertebrates.

The Banerjee lab also examines how blood-forming stem cells sense stressors including injury, oxygen deprivation and dietary changes. When exposed to stressors, blood-forming stem cells respond by increasing production of the cells that make up the innate immune system. The lab found that inflammatory response plays a major role in the way blood cells respond to injury at distant sites. Banerjee and his team also are interested in the study of metabolic control in cancer pathways. His lab has identified cellular signals that participate in the development of cancer and examined the role mitochondria—cell components that produce energy—play in cancer cell metabolism.

Banerjee earned a doctorate degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where he also completed a post-doctoral fellowship. Banerjee was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 and inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2008. He was named a fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science in 2009, and was selected as one of the country’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professors in 2002, an honor for which he received a $1 million grant to improve undergraduate science teaching.

Publications

Honors & Affiliations

Honors

  • Elected member, National Academy of Sciences, 2018
  • Director’s Pioneer Award, National Institutes of Health, 2011
  • Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education, Genetics Society of America, 2010
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2009
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Science, 2008
  • Elected President, Drosophilia board, 2006­
  • Professor, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2002
  • Gold Shield Faculty Prize, UCLA, 2000
  • Top 20 Professors of the Bruin Century, UCLA Today, 2000

Affiliations

  • Director, Genetics Society of America
  • UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • UCLA Brain Research Institute
  • Selection advisory board, Gruber Genetics Prize  
  • Associate Editor, PLOS Genetics
  • Reviewing Editor, eLife
  • Advisory board, inSTEM
  • Member, Management Board, National Center for Biological Sciences, India
  • Editorial board, Current Opinion in Genetics and Development; Journal of Genetics

Funding

Banerjee's research is funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, the March of Dimes and the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center, including support from the Sherry, Dave and Sheila Gold Foundation.