USC biological imaging innovator elected to National Academy of Medicine
Provost Professor Scott Fraser, a recognized innovator whose inventions have found wide use in both scientific and clinical settings, is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine. (Photo: Noé Montes.)

USC biological imaging innovator elected to National Academy of Medicine

Provost Professor Scott Fraser is recognized for developing technology that provides “unprecedented views of … live organisms, from embryonic development to old age.” [3¾ min read]
ByYannis Yortsos and Darrin S. Joy

Scott Fraser, Provost Professor of Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Physiology and Biophysics, Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, Pediatrics, Radiology and Ophthalmology, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

Fraser, who holds joint appointments at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and USC Viterbi School of Engineering as well as the Elizabeth Garrett Chair in Convergent Bioscience, is one of just 90 researchers chosen from among the world’s leading scientists to become members of the academy.

“Professor Scott E. Fraser is a brilliant biophysicist and innovator,” said USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski. “He is being recognized for groundbreaking advancements in biology and medicine. His research, which centers on imaging and molecular analyses of intact biological systems, serves as inspiration for future generations of engineers, scientists and medical professionals.”

Among the reasons for his election, the academy noted Fraser’s work “integrating biophysics, quantitative biology, and molecular imaging to enable unprecedented views of normal function and disease in live organisms, from embryonic development to old age.”

“I’ve always been fascinated by interdisciplinary teams that can bring new insights into old problems by combining the insights from science, engineering and medicine,” Fraser said.

Applying “tricks from other fields”

Fraser, who earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and his Ph.D. in biophysics, says he gravitated toward research in biology “because there are so many open questions, and so many things that have been thought to be impossible to answer — but tricks from other fields make the impossible possible, if the team is willing to tackle it together.”

Fraser’s research delves into early development, organogenesis (the process by which internal organs emerge and develop) and medical diagnostics. His work has spawned several start-up companies and has been used in a number of instruments and FDA-approved diagnostics.

“We keep our eyes open to translation of the work in the lab to industrial and clinical utility,” he said, adding that USC’s Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering and USC Viterbi’s National Science Foundation-funded Innovation Corps node have both played key roles and offered important instruction on how to best bring their work to potential “customers.”

“In the last year, our IP (intellectual property) has been licensed by a half-dozen different companies,” he said. “So, we know the work can lead to new instruments, new diagnostics and new techniques.”

Fraser said his team works diligently to ensure collaborators in scientific and clinical fields also benefit from their efforts.

“We have built the Translational Imaging Center on the University Park campus and the Translational Biomedical Imaging Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles to help support users with interests in fields ranging from regenerative medicine to cancer and diabetes. This is already empowering them to make new insights into their research challenges.

“What we hope to do is to make it possible for researchers and clinicians to have ‘aha’ moments, when they can see things for the first time.”

A career highlighted by innovation

After earning his Ph.D. in 1979, Fraser joined the faculty at the University of California, Irvine, where he rose through the ranks to become chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. In 1990, he moved to Caltech to serve as the Anna L. Rosen Professor of Biology and the director of the Biological Imaging Center. There, he served as the founding director of both the Caltech Brain Imaging Center and the Rosen Center for Biological Engineering and helped found the Kavli Nanoscience Institute.

In Fall 2012, Fraser moved to USC as Provost Professor at USC Dornsife and USC Viterbi, with formal links to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Keck School of Medicine of USC. He serves as the director of science initiatives for USC as well as co-director of the Bridge Institute at the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience.

A prolific author and inventor, Fraser has more than 240 peer-reviewed articles and more than 75 issued patents to his credit. He is the recipient of numerous honors and has been elected to the National Academy of Inventors, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the European Academy of Science.

About the National Academy of Medicine

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, is an independent organization of professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine, and the natural, social and behavioral sciences. Election to the academy recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.