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Denise Monack becomes chair of Stanford’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Monack, whose research focuses on interactions between microbial pathogens and the immune system during infections, succeeds David Schneider.

- By Bruce Goldman

Denise Monack

Denise Monack, PhD, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has been appointed department chair. She assumed the role April 1.

Monack, who is the Martha Meier Weiland Professor of the School of Medicine, has served as associate chair of the department since 2019. She succeeds David Schneider, PhD, who is stepping down after a customary five-year term as chair to focus on his research.

“Denise Monack has been in Stanford’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology for 38 years,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “In this time, she has established herself as a foremost researcher in bacterial pathogens and immune responses to infection. She is exceptionally well-suited to lead the department and build upon its legacy of robust scientific discovery.”

Monack’s primary research focus is to understand the tug of war that takes place between bacterial pathogens and the host’s immune system during infections. She has discovered specific immune responses that help the host tolerate high levels of a pathogen for long periods of time. Her lab, which also studies pathogens’ interactions with friendly resident gut microbes, has learned, for example, that specific metabolites derived from these resident intestinal microbes help defend against bacteria that cause food poisoning.

“Beyond her basic science expertise,” Minor said, “Denise has earned acclaim at Stanford Medicine and broadly within her field as a visionary leader and respected mentor and teacher. Many alumni of her lab have gone on to serve as faculty and senior scientists at leading universities and biotech companies.”

Monack earned a bachelor’s degree in genetics in 1984 from UC-Davis and started working at Stanford in 1984 as a life science technician. Promoted to research assistant in 1987, she quit the job in 1998 to pursue an advanced degree at Stanford’s School of Medicine. In 2002, she received a PhD in microbiology and immunology from the medical school and served as a senior research scientist within the department before being promoted to assistant professor in 2007. She became an associate professor in 2012 and a full professor in 2016.

Monack has authored or co-authored close to 150 peer-reviewed publications. She has held multiple leadership roles within the American Academy of Microbiology and serves on numerous editorial boards of scientific journals. She has also trained numerous postdoctoral scholars and graduate students. In 2012, she received a Mentoring Award from the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association.

As departmental chair, Monack oversees nearly 80 faculty members, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students and administrative staff. The department, which was founded nearly 100 years ago, has been at the forefront of research into host-microbe interactions for much of that time. Monack’s vision for the future includes increasing the department’s involvement in interdisciplinary and translational research.

“We’re a close-knit community,” Monack said. “David Schneider demonstrated a great deal of tolerance and resilience leading our department through two tough years of a pandemic and is leaving the department in excellent shape. Indeed, David has done an outstanding job of increasing diversity at all levels in our department. Under his tenure, female representation on our faculty has increased from about 15% to 50% today.”

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