Leadership and Key Members
Utpal Banerjee, PhD
In addition to serving as co-director of the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, Utpal Banerjee, PhD, is professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology in the Life Sciences.
Dr. Banerjee, an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is among only 20 professors nationwide to be awarded a $1 million grant by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to creatively improve undergraduate science teaching.
Dr. Banerjee’s current research focuses on the maintenance of blood stem cells within a microenvironment where signals from a niche are important for the maintenance of quiescence within a precursor population. Lack of such a niche-derived signal causes loss of “stemness,” resulting in increased proliferation and differentiation.
Results from Dr. Banerjee’s lab have shown that the “stemness” of these cells is maintained through the combined action of a niche signal, which is generated by Hedgehog, a local signal generated by Wingless/Wnt and a reverse signal from the differentiated cells to the stem cells. His team has termed this combined action the “equilibrium signal.” Several important concepts underlying fruit fly blood development have allowed them to propose this system as an appropriate genetic model for vertebrate hematopoiesis, and these molecular mechanisms are being explored in the laboratory.
Dr. Banerjee’s studies also have led to the investigation of multiple stress response systems. Myeloid blood cells are ideal for studying many stress responses. Hypoxia-related factors and free radicals known as reactive oxygen species play a role both in blood stem cell development and in stress response. Similarly, his lab has found that inflammatory response plays a major role in the way blood cells respond to injury at distant sites. Dr. Banerjee believes that basic developmental mechanisms are co-opted for stress, injury and inflammatory responses by the myeloid blood cell system. Genetic analysis will allow his team to understand the relationship between these important biological phenomena that have relevance to diseases and disorders in humans.
Dr. Banerjee and his team also are interested in the study of metabolic control in cancer pathways. His lab has identified components of signal transduction pathways that participate in oncogenesis. In addition, they have examined the role of the mitochondrion in controlling cell cycle, particularly that when cells become transformed they choose alternate means of metabolism. Also of interest is studying the effect of signal transduction pathways on the control of cellular metabolism and the proper balance between cellular growth and metabolism that goes awry in cancer.
Earlier work from Dr. Banerjee’s laboratory identified the Son of sevenless gene that links receptor tyrosine kinases to the oncogene Ras. His laboratory also has identified novel means by which different signal transduction cascades combine to distinguish between neural and non-neural cell types. His team has made critical discoveries in identifying transcription factors and signaling components responsible for fruit fly blood stem cell development.
In 2000, UCLA named Dr. Banerjee one of the “Best 20 Professors”of the last century. His work has been recognized with the Luckman, Ebi and Gold Shield awards, the highest research and teaching awards given. In 2009, Dr. Banerjee was named the Irving and Jean Stone Chair in Life Sciences. And in 2010, the Genetics Society of America gave Dr. Banerjee the Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education.
Dr. Banerjee is also a member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Brain Research Institute, the Neuroscience Graduate Program, has a joint appointment in the Department of Biological Chemistry, and he serves as director of the UCLA Interdepartmental Minor in Biomedical Research.
A native of New Delhi, India, Dr. Banerjee earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Stephen's College, Delhi University, India and obtained a master’s degree in physical chemistry from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India. In 1984, he earned a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Banerjee’s transition into the field of biology resulted from his postdoctoral training with scientist Seymour Benzer at Caltech, where he conducted research in the molecular neurogenetics of eye development in Drosophila, the common fruit fly. He joined the UCLA faculty in 1988.