In Memoriam: Virgil L. Woods, Jr., MD

Virgil L. Woods, Jr., MD
1948 – 2012

Dr. Virgil L. Woods, Jr.Virgil L. Woods, Jr., MD, pioneer in the field of proteomics and beloved teacher and clinician who spent his academic career at UC San Diego, died September 30 after an illness. He was 64 years old.

“We are very saddened at the loss of our colleague and friend,” said Wolfgang Dillmann, MD, Helen M. Ranney Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine.

Dr. Woods was professor of medicine in Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology.

“He was an enthusiastic clinician and teacher, and brought a high level of energy and critical thinking skills to the teaching and clinical programs in rheumatology at UCSD,” said Robert A. Terkeltaub, MD (below), professor of medicine and interim chief of the division.

Robert Terkeltaub, MD“He was very generous in his service roles. He will be greatly missed in our program, on both a personal and professional level. He was truly one of a kind.”

“Virgil Woods was a gifted scientist, an outstanding clinician, a generous colleague, and an enthusiastic teacher,” said Mark H. Ginsberg, MD (below), colleague of Dr. Woods and a fellow rheumatologist.

Dr. Ginsberg is professor of medicine in the divisions of Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology and Hematology-Oncology and director of the UCSD Physician-Scientist Training Program.

“Virgil was an active and engaged rheumatologist,” he said.

Dr. Mark Ginsberg“He taught his subspecialty and particularly relished working on the front lines of inpatient medicine as an academic hospitalist. In this role he assumed responsibility for acutely ill patients with a wide spectrum of conditions and was a major resource for young physicians.

“Virgil was always willing to share the clinical work load with his colleagues and was unfailingly generous in making time to teach fellows, residents, and students,” Ginsberg said.

In addition to his teaching activities within the Department of Medicine, Dr. Woods was a faculty member in the UCSD Biomedical Sciences and Bioinformatics and Systems Biology graduate programs.

“He was a fountain of clinical and research wisdom,” Dr. Ginsberg said, “and his untimely death is a loss to the UCSD community.”

Dr. Woods was a highly respected and productive physician-scientist. “Virgil was one of the first to use monoclonal antibodies to examine the functional role of platelet cell surface receptors,” Dr. Ginsberg said.

“In doing so, he raised some of the earliest antibodies that blocked the function of platelet integrins, antibodies that were prototypes for agents in current use in the clinic in a spectrum of diseases including multiple sclerosis and arterial thrombosis.”

In recent years, his research centered upon structural biology applications of an advanced proteomics technology.

“Virgil had a dream to use mapping of amino acids that were protected from chemical modification as a means to assess protein folding and identify sites involved in protein-protein interactions,” said Dr. Ginsberg. “With the advent of modern high-resolution protein mass spectroscopy, it was possible to analyze deuterium exchange of whole proteins as a means to study their higher order structure,” he said.

“Virgil’s singular contribution was to develop methods to proteolytically cleave proteins into peptides under conditions that prevented further deuterium exchange. This enabled him to map the accessibility of individual peptides in a folded protein, a technique called peptide amide hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (DXMS).”

In the following years, Dr. Woods and his colleagues refined the DXMS method, increasing its resolution and applying it in an expanding range of protein studies.

“His techniques have found wide applicability in the study of protein structures in the Structural Genomics Initiative and have been used around the world to assess protein-protein interactions,” Dr. Ginsberg said.

The work resulted in seven patents and earned considerable funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources. Dr. Woods was the UCSD Technology Transfer Office’s Fall 2012 “Featured Pioneer.”

Dr. Woods directed the DXMS Proteomics Resource at UCSD and was actively collaborating with researchers at UCSD, The Scripps Research Institute, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the Salk Institute and other institutions in the United States and abroad.

“Virgil’s scientific achievements spring directly from his vision, dedication, and perseverance,” said Dr. Ginsberg. “He had a true scientific ‘green thumb.’ He could make things work when many others had tried and failed.”

Dr. Woods received his undergraduate training at UC San Francisco (BS, medical sciences) and UCSD (BA, biochemistry) and his MD degree at UC San Francisco. After interning and completing his residency at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, he came to UCSD as a rheumatology fellow in 1979.

He joined the Department of Medicine faculty when he completed his fellowship in 1981, and served UCSD for 31 years.

“Virgil was an outstanding colleague and faculty member by being an exceptional clinician, enthusiastic teacher and highly creative scientist,” said Dr. Dillmann.

Dr. Woods is survived by his wife, Betsy, and three children; his parents; and three brothers.
Profile of Dr. Woods

UCSD Press Releases About His Work