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17747scr f30b710e43e9363by Hannah Buckelew

Joanne Murphy-Ullrich, Ph.D., Professor, Molecular and Cellular Pathology, will retire at the beginning of next month, July 1, 2023, after 37 years of service at UAB.

Murphy-Ullrich received her bachelor of science in medical technology from Marquette University and worked as a medical technologist in the University of Wisconsin Hospital’s Blood Bank before completing her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in pathology in 1983. From 1983-1986, she was a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Deane Mosher in the Departments of Medicine and Physiological Chemistry. In 1986, Murphy-Ullrich came to UAB’s Department of Biochemistry where she served as senior research associate, research instructor, and research assistant professor before joining the UAB Department of Pathology as assistant professor in 1991. In 1995, she was promoted to associate professor, and in 2000, she was named professor. She had secondary appointments in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Cell Developmental and Integrative Biology.

As a renowned researcher, Murphy-Ullrich had a hand in several significant discoveries, including the identification of a cellular de-adhesive role for matricellular extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. This function controls cell adhesion, migration and cell survival, a process called intermediate cell adhesion. She and her team discovered the role of thrombospondin-1 (TSP-1) as an activator of latent TGF-β, elucidating molecular mechanisms and the role of this pathway in disease pathogenesis (fibrosis, cancer, glaucoma, wound healing). Her lab showed the importance of this pathway in diabetic complications, including hypertensive cardiomyopathy and diabetic nephropathy, and in various vascular, pulmonary, and wound healing disorders and was involved in drug development efforts through the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance with Southern Research. The Murphy-Ullrich lab also discovered the role of the endoplasmic reticulum and calcium regulatory protein, calreticulin, in regulation of TGF-β transcriptional stimulation of ECM proteins and in regulation of collagen processing. This pathway was important in diabetic nephropathy and acute vascular injury models.

A prolific researcher, Murphy-Ullrich was named an Established Investigator Genentech Special Awardee by the American Heart Association from 1997 to 2000. She has received continuous funding from various grant agencies since 1988, including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Arthritis Foundation, JDRF, the Eyesight Foundation of Alabama, and the American Society of Hematology. She maintains a Scopus H-index of 60, and her work has been cited more than 13,000 times, demonstrating the high impact of her publications. She has been issued eight patents over the course of her career.

Dr. Murphy-Ullrich has been active in the field of ECM biology, serving leadership roles in the American Society for Matrix Biology for nearly 15 years, including terms as treasurer and president. In 2022, Murphy-Ullrich was named Editor-in-Chief of both Matrix Biology and Matrix Biology Plus, premier journals in the field, published by Elsevier. At UAB, she served as Director of the Cell Adhesion and Matrix Research Center and Co-Director of the BioMatrix Engineering and Regenerative Medicine Center. She is a Senior Scientist at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center; Comprehensive Arthritic, Musculoskeletal, Bone and Autoimmunity Center; Nephrology Research and Training Center; Diabetes Research and Training Center; and the Center for Cardiovascular Disease.

“Dr. Murphy-Ullrich has had a remarkable career here at UAB and established herself as an international leader in the field of ECM pathobiology,” says Ralph Sanderson, Ph.D., Division Director, Molecular and Cellular Pathology. “She has published numerous cutting-edge papers that have contributed substantially to our understanding of the ECM. She has established a strong track record of mentoring trainees that have developed into successful scientists and she has served both locally and internationally within the academic community.”

In Murphy-Ullrich’s appointment with the UAB Graduate School, she has served as a mentor to 14 Ph.D. and M.S. students and 12 postdoctoral trainees. She served on 84 Ph.D. thesis committees, and developed curriculum for the Molecular and Cellular Pathology Graduate Program soon after joining the department as faculty. She has received the Molecular and Cellular Pathology Graduate Student Faculty Award twice and served on various graduate program and medical school program curricula committees.

Murphy-Ullrich plans to continue her research collaborations on TSP-1 variants in glaucoma and cartilage tissue engineering and in her role as Editor-in-Chief of Matrix Biology and Matrix Biology Plus. In the fall, she will both present and chair a session on Matricellular Proteins at the joint American Society for Matrix Biology/American Society for Investigative Pathology/Histochemical Society conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Retirement will give her more time to travel, tackle home remodeling projects, and spend time with family as she and her husband are expecting their first grandchild this fall.

“Always willing to step up when asked,” Sanderson says, “Dr. Murphy-Ullrich embodies the true spirit of collegiality that is a hallmark of our department and institution.”