JULY 2011


Irving Zabin, Ph.D., Assistant Dean,
David Geffen
School of Medicine at UCLA

Professor Witnessed Growth of UCLA Medical School over 61 Years

Irving Zabin, Ph.D., came to UCLA to do research in biochemistry in 1950 — one year before the university’s nascent medical school enrolled its first class. Sixty-one years later, the 91-year-old professor emeritus is an assistant dean for academic affairs.

How has the medical school changed in the past 61 years?
There is now a quite different program for teaching. There is much more clinical relevance right at the beginning of the medical students’ education. Before, students were exposed to important concepts like biochemistry in their first year of medicine, but now the first-year curriculum is much more directly related to medical problems and the practice of medicine.

What are some of the most impressive changes you’ve seen at UCLA?
The most impressive change is the great increase in size as well as stature of UCLA. UCLA is certainly one of the important universities and the school of medicine is certainly one of the best. And we know that the hospital is considered the “best in the west” so I’m personally very pleased to still be a part of it. And I must say I am so very impressed with our faculty, the basic researchers, and how fine they are, what good work they do. It’s really a personal pleasure to have been able to help, to be a part of it.

What brought you to UCLA initially?
I did graduate work at the University of Chicago. My mentor was the biochemist Dr. Konrad Bloch, who got the Nobel Prize for his studies on how cholesterol is formed in the body. I was his first graduate student. He was very young, and a new assistant professor there. When I finished my Ph.D., I came to UCLA as a research associate and the following year was appointed as a lecturer in biochemistry. A year later, I became an assistant professor, and soon after that, an associate professor, and finally a professor. There was also a three-year period in the late ‘80s when I worked as an associate dean at the school of medicine. Initially, I worked on the intermediary metabolism and the biosynthesis of lipids, or fatty substances, found in our cells. Later on, I took a sabbatical leave and spent a year at the Pasteur Institute in Paris where I worked on molecular biology and continued in that area for the rest of my career.

What do you like about your job as assistant dean?
It’s useful and I continue to contribute to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Did you ever consider retiring?
In 1990, I retired because at that time professors had to retire at age 70. I stayed at UCLA to do some work and some teaching and not too long after that, I was asked to work as an assistant dean. The retirement rule was changed the year after I retired and now you can work forever. Lucky me!

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Yes. Both. I work three days a week, making recommendations on promotions and appointments for the school’s basic science faculty. Sometimes when I have too much to do, it’s a little bit of a burden to meet my deadlines, but generally, I really enjoy the work.

There are people 20 years younger than you who are not as active, vigorous and engaged in life as you. What has allowed you to stay so healthy and productive?
Well, I guess I chose my parents well. It’s pretty random as to how healthy one becomes. I’m sure there are some things I’ve done to stay healthy. I haven’t been any kind of exercise fiend. A good deal of my exercise comes from walking down to the dean’s office, which is down a couple of corridors. In general, my wife is quite careful that we have fruits and vegetables and salads. If you want to know the secret of my longevity, I’m sorry, I can’t guarantee you’ll live until 92. I can’t guarantee I will, either. I still have half a year to go.

What are your other interests?
I’m an amateur violinist, so I play chamber music. I try to, anyway, making a few mistakes here or there. I play quartets quite often and presently play duets with a pianist and sometimes a cellist. In addition to music, I enjoy theater, and occasionally watch movies and plays.