Frank M. LaFerla, Ph.D

Dean and Chancellor’s Professor

Frank LaFerla is the Dean of the UCI School of Biological Sciences and a Chancellor’s Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior. He is the Director of the NIH-funded UCI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Co-Director of NIH-funded MODEL-AD at UCI, a research effort to develop the next generation of model organisms to evaluate and cure Alzheimer’s disease. He previously served as the department chair from 2011-2014 and Director of Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) from 2008 to 2018.

Dean LaFerla’s research focuses on understanding the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia. His scholarly work has had a global influence on the field, as some of the models he has generated have been distributed to over 150 researchers in more than 20 countries throughout the world. He has published over 225 original peer-reviewed articles and has been listed among the top 1% cited researchers in his field. He is a recipient of the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor and has received multiple honors for his research accomplishments. Some of these honors include the Ruth Salta Junior Investigator Achievement Award from the American Health Assistance Foundation, Zenith Fellows Award from the Alzheimer’s Association, Distinguished Mid-Career Faculty Research Award, Promising Work Award from the Metropolitan Life Foundation for Medical Research. He was also elected as a Fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Neurological Association.

>See Dean’s Faculty Page
Frank LaFerla photo

Frankly about Dean LaFerla

Why should anyone who is not a scientist or a clinician care about the biological sciences? I would argue there is nothing more important than the study of life. ~ Frank M. LaFerla

When Dean Frank LaFerla isn’t at BioSci, he might be found on a nearby tennis court. He has wielded a racket several times a week since 2011, when colleagues introduced him to the sport as a way to get more exercise and “I fell in love with it.” His passion for tennis reflects his commitment to BioSci’s foundational theme of MIND | BODY | WORLD. “There’s no question physical wellness contributes to brain health,” Dean LaFerla says. “A healthy planet is essential to both of those, which is why we talk about life being interconnected.”

Curiosity about what lies behind these processes prompted him to choose biology as his college major. “Using a microscope to explore the world’s hidden secrets by seeing cells and bacteria fascinated me.” While he intended to go to medical school following graduation, he changed his mind after landing a summer position as a researcher after his sophomore year. “I realized research was my calling and I have enjoyed every minute of it.”

This focus was honed further when his mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor in her mid-fifties. She developed dementia, giving Dean LaFerla a firsthand understanding of the toll neurological diseases take on individuals and their families. “It triggered my desire to pursue this area of study,” Dean LaFerla explained. “I realized innovative biology would be essential to defeating these diseases.” A lauded Alzheimer’s researcher, he continues to tackle the issue by leading a working research laboratory while serving as BioSci’s dean.

The son of Italian immigrants, Dean LaFerla was the first in his family to pursue an advanced degree. He says his personal experience has provided him special appreciation of UCI’s stature as the top UC campus choice for first-generation students and those from low-income families and underrepresented groups. He hopes many will consider studying biology, because in his view, nothing is more exciting than the life sciences. In the face of climate change, devastating diseases and other challenges, nothing is more important, either.

One of Dean LaFerla’s most cherished BioSci initiatives is its mentorship programs. He encourages all students to take part.

“I have had amazing mentors at every stage of my academic career. Everyone needs a mentor, someone with more experience with whom you can bounce ideas off of and get honest feedback. Sometimes having others believe you can succeed is all you need to actually do so.”

If you would like to learn more about UCI BioSci’s Mentor Program, please click here. “I hope you enjoy your engagement with UCI BioSci and feel it is worth it. We are certainly interested in deepening our relationship with you.”

Learn More About Dean LaFerla

Educational Background

Saint Joseph’s University

B.S., Biology

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Ph.D., Microbiology


Research Interests

Molecular biology of Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegenerative disorders; Genetically-modified Animal Models, Neuroinflammation.

Director of Alzheimer’s Disease Center

Hobbies and Interests

Tennis is my favorite hobby. I play with the Wilson Pro Staff RF97, which is the same model of racket that Roger Federer uses. I encourage my friends to call me Frank LaFederer, but without much success, I have to admit.

I also love to hike and be outdoors. The mountains in the Palm Springs area are perfect for that; one gets to experience nature and wildlife close and up front. It is fascinating to see how life adapts between Orange County’s different coastal environments and the desert.

Recent Books Read

The three books written by the Israeli philosopher Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind; Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow; and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. They have influenced the way I think about biology. I have enjoyed them and encourage others to read them.


Ellis Island Award
2020 Medals of Honor

Dean LaFerla selfie