Ira Mellman bigraphy, stories - Biologists

Ira Mellman : biography


Ira Mellman, Ph.D. is an American cell biologist who discovered endosomes. He serves as Vice President of Research Oncology at Genentech in South San Francisco, California and is Professor of Biochemistry & Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Early Life and Studies

Mellman grew up in New York, where he lived until he enrolled at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. While in college he maintained an interest in music but focused on the rapidly expanding field of cell biology. Working with David Miller, he began to study Chlamydomonas and found that a significant amount of the cell wall consisted of extensin. After leaving Oberlin, he enrolled in the graduate program at the University of California, Berkeley, but later transferred to Yale University to switch to research more applicable to people. At Yale, he studied the genetics behind vitamin B12 metabbolism under the guidance of geneticist Leon Rosenberg. He became interested in endocytosis and did a postdoc with Ralph Steinman and Zanvil A. Cohn at Rockefeller University and started characterizing endosomes.


  • Mellman keeps a picture of former WTOP reporter and anchorman Ira Mellman on the front of his door.
  • Mellman plays bass in his own rock band called "The Cellmates."


Mellman's work has examined the role of endocytosis in cell metabolism and human disease. He was among the first to characterize the endosomal system. Later projects include investigation of LDL cholesterol receptor internalization, cellular sorting machinery, and the cellular basis for immunity. He is an authority on the cell biological mechanisms and function of dendritic cells, the cell type responsible for initiating the immune response, an interest that dates back to his postdoctoral period at Rockefeller University in the lab of Ralph Steinman, who won the Nobel Prize in 2011 for his discovery of dendritic cells.

Move to Yale and Later Years

He returned to Yale after completing postdoctoral work and remained there as a professor for over twenty years. During this time he was the Sterling Professor of Cell Biology & Immunobiology, chair of the Cell Biology Department, Scientific Director of the Yale Cancer Center and a member of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. Mellman has served on the council of the American Society for Cell Biology and was the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cell Biology from 1999-2008, he remains active as a Senior Editor for the journal.

In 2007, he was recruited to Genentech as the VP of Research Oncology to replace Marc Tessier-Lavigne. There, the company is developing understanding of immunology and along that, immunotherapy.

Mellman is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Foreign Associate of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

In 1977, he married Margaret Moench; the couple have three children.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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