David Schlaepfer was born and raised in southern California, active in sports, and served as high school student body president. He graduated cum laude from Princeton University with an A.B. in biology (1985). As a graduate student in biological chemistry mentored by Dr. Harry Haigler PhD at UC Irvine, David was the first to purify, clone, and characterize annexin V. As a postdoctoral researcher with Dr. Tony Hunter PhD at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, David showed that integrin receptor binding to fibronectin was linked to Ras-MAP kinase by Grb2 binding to tyrosine phosphorylated focal adhesion kinase (FAK). In 1996, David joined the Department of Immunology at the Scripps Research Institute as an Assistant Professor where his group led the field in the molecular analyses of FAK protein function in promoting cell movement, invasion, and tumor cell survival. In 2005, David was awarded an American Heart Association Established Investigator Award for his pioneering work demonstrating differential roles for FAK expression or activity in developmental blood vessel morphogenesis using conditional knockout and knockin transgenic mouse models.
In 2007, David joined the UC San Diego Health Moores Cancer Center, Division of Gynecologic Oncology as a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences. The FAK gene (PTK2) is localized to a genetic locus (8q24) linked to ovarian cancer and elevated FAK expression occurs as a function of tumor progression. Using multiple cutting edge research tools and newly-derived ovarian syngeneic mouse tumor models, Schlaepfer lab studies have provided insights into tumor chemotherapy resistance and new checkpoint immunotherapy combinations with small molecule FAK inhibitors that are being tested in human clinical trials. David has trained more than thirty graduate students, postdoctoral, or MD fellows who have achieved productive careers in academia or in the bio-pharmaceutical industry. He has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1996 and strives to make translational gynecologic oncology research advances.