UIC biochemist elected AAAS fellow

Jack Kaplan, the Benjamin Goldberg Professor and head of biochemistry and molecular genetics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

Kaplan was cited for his distinguished research contributions to understanding fundamental mechanisms on the biochemistry, biophysics and physiology of ion transport.

“I am extremely honored by this recognition from the AAAS,” Kaplan said. “It’s a tribute to the outstanding group of students and fellows who have worked with me. This award reinforces the importance of investing in interdisciplinary approaches to the investigation of basic biological processes.”

Throughout his career, Kaplan has studied how the membrane that surrounds cells controls the entry and exit of ions that are important for maintaining cellular processes. For many years his main focus was on the sodium pump, a protein in the cell membrane essential to balancing salts and fluids for kidney and cardiac functions. Digitalis – the most widely used medication for heart failure – targets this protein.

While researching the sodium pump, Kaplan developed the use of “caged” compounds that rapidly release biologically active substances when exposed to light. The strategy has been applied to many areas of physiology, biochemistry and neurobiology since his discovery.

Kaplan became interested in the processes that regulate the body’s levels of copper while he was studying another pump that moves copper ions out of cells. That ion pump is disrupted in Wilson’s disease, a rare inherited disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain and other vital organs.

The copper ion is an essential micronutrient in humans. Roles for copper have recently been identified in wound healing, neurodegeneration and tumor progression. However, it is toxic at elevated levels, and a wide variety of cellular mechanisms are involved in its regulation.

Kaplan was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (the British equivalent of the National Academy of Sciences and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence) in 1995. In 2000 he was named a Fellow of the Biophysical Society. A graduate of the University of Manchester who received his doctorate from the University of London, he has been at UIC for the past 11 years. He previously served on the faculty at the University of Iowa, University of Pennsylvania and Oregon Health Sciences University. He has also served as associate director for basic science in the UI Cancer Center since 2011.