For Whom the Nobel Tolls
Three NIH-funded extramural researchers won the Nobel prize this year and so did an alum in NIH’s intramural program. This year’s winners were James Allison, Frances Arnold, and George Smith. To see the full list of NIH-supported Nobel laureates, go to https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/nih-almanac/nobel-laureates.
The intramural program also has a list of Nobel prize winners who either did the bulk of their award-winning research here or trained or worked in one of NIH’s laboratories. This list is at 23 and counting.
Now topping the list is Tasuku Honjo, who shares this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Allison “for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation.” Honjo is well known for his identification of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID). He was a postdoctoral research fellow under Phil Leder in NICHD from 1973 to 1974, staying on as a visiting fellow in 1975 and then again in 1977. Keiko Ozato in NICHD, who knew Honjo well during these years, noted that, in her opinion, Honjo’s stay in Leder’s lab likely helped to define his lifelong research direction in the dynamics of immunoglobulin genes.
Honjo identified the PD-1 gene, the subject of his Nobel prize, in Japan but worked on its regulation at NIH and benefited from interactions with the larger immunology community. From 1992 to 1996, he returned to the NIH as a Fogarty Scholar in Residence, living on campus and conducting research in various labs for three-month stints. In his summary statements from the Fogarty years, Honjo wrote of his desire to understand whether PD-1 was expressed during the development of mouse embryos. So he spent time in the NICHD laboratories of Igor Dawid and Kathy Mahon to learn the in situ hybridization technique for a whole-mouse embryo. He also interacted with a who’s-who of immunology at the NIH, if not the world—Ron Schwartz, Tom Waldmann, and the late John Ashwell and Bill Paul. “Such interaction helped me enormously to decide the next direction of own research,” Honjo wrote in 1993. More recently, he has collaborated with Bob Crouch (NICHD) and Patricia Gearhart (NIA), among others.
New National Academy of Medicine Members: 6+1
Of the 85 new members elected to the National Academy of Medicine, six are from the NIH this year and one more was a fellow at NIDCR in the NIGMS’s Postdoctoral Research Associate Program. (PRAT). The new members and their citations are:
Yasmine Belkaid (NIAID), “for defining fundamental mechanisms that regulate tissue immunity and uncovered key roles for the commensal microbiota and dietary factors in the maintenance of tissue immunity and protection to pathogens”
William Gahl (NHGRI), “for contributions that include creating the Undiagnosed Diseases Program within intramural NIH to meld individualized patient care with next-generation sequencing and to provide insights into new mechanisms of disease; spearheading expansion to the national Undiagnosed Diseases Network and the Undiagnosed Disease Network International, and championing the sharing of genetic databases and best practices”
Joshua Gordon (NIMH/NINDS), “for research demonstrating how distant brain regions cooperate and coordinate their activity in order to guide behavior, and how this coordination is disrupted in experimental systems relevant to psychiatric disorders”
Steve Holland (NIAID), “for distinguished achievements in primary immunodeficiencies and infectious diseases, including the recognition, treatment, genomic identification, and cure of previously unexplained diseases as well as the identification and characterization of novel pathogens in those diseases”
Ellen Leibenluft (NIMH), “for highlighting the need to carefully evaluate children who may have bipolar disorder; identifying chronic irritability, a new clinical problem which differs from pediatric bipolar disorder, and pioneering the use of cognitive neuroscience to address fundamental clinical questions on nosology and treatment of pediatric mental disorders”
Charles Rotimi (NHGRI), “for groundbreaking research in African and African ancestry populations, providing new insights into the genetic and environmental contributors to a variety of important clinical conditions, as well as health disparities locally and globally.”
The former PRAT fellow is Jennifer Elisseeff, who is the Morton Goldberg Professor in the department of biomedical engineering and ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore). She was elected “for significant achievements in regenerative medicine therapies and contributions to regenerative immunology.” Elisseeff was a PRAT fellow from 1999 to 2001 with Yoshi Yamada in NIDCR.
Ad Bax Wins 2018 Welch Chemistry Award
The Welch Foundation has named Adriaan Bax as the 2018 recipient of the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. Bax, in NIDDK’s Laboratory of Chemical Physics, is responsible for transforming nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy into a powerful and widely used tool for the study of the structure, function, and dynamics of biological macromolecules. The focus of Bax’s early work was the development of novel multidimensional NMR experiments that have become a cornerstone of chemical analysis. He then introduced the now widely adopted NMR approach that relies on stable isotopes to unravel the complexity that plagued earlier NMR studies of biological macromolecules.
Subsequently, Bax altered the course of biological NMR again. By dissolving proteins in a dilute aqueous liquid crystalline suspension, he made it possible to precisely measure the orientations of chemical bonds, thus providing a far sharper view of protein structure and motions. Recently, Bax and co-workers at NIH opened a new window on the process by allowing NMR to follow protein folding at the atomic level in real time.
The purpose of the Welch Award is to foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize, in a substantial manner, the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of humankind as set forth in the will of Robert Alonzo Welch. The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, is one of America’s largest private funding sources for basic chemical research. For more information, click here.
Dan Kastner is the Federal Employee of the Year
Congratulations to NHGRI Scientific Director Dan Kastner for receiving the 2018 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal (“Sammie” award) as the Federal Employee of the Year. Since 2002, the Sammies have paid tribute to America’s dedicated federal workforce, highlighting those who have made significant contributions to our country. Kastner received the highest Sammie honor for having “identified an entire new class of rare genetic diseases and treatments to alleviate suffering for thousands of patients in the U.S. and around the world.” Since Kastner and his group moved from NIAMS to the NHGRI intramural research program in late 2010, they have maintained a vigorous clinical-research program that studies patients with both known and undiagnosed disorders of inflammation, and they participate in an interinstitute clinical program with investigators and trainees from NIAMS and NIAID. Read the Sammie story at https://servicetoamericamedals.org/honorees/view_profile.php?profile=500.