Biochemist becomes 15th UT Southwestern faculty member serving on National Academy of Sciences

DALLAS - April 20, 2004 - Dr. Xiaodong Wang, a professor of biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who discovered the biochemical pathway responsible for cell death, today was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors attainable by an American scientist.

Dr. Wang, 41, becomes the 15th UT Southwestern faculty member serving on the prestigious organization. On Monday he received the NAS Award in Molecular Biology, an honor given annually for a recent notable discovery in molecular biology by a young scientist.

There are now 19 NAS members at Texas medical institutions. More than 75 percent of those are at UT Southwestern. Two researchers from other Texas institutions also were among the 72 new members and 18 foreign associates that were elected to the NAS today.

Dr. Wang said he is "overwhelmed" to be among those UT Southwestern faculty members previously elected to the NAS. "These are the people who have been my teachers and mentors, and from whom I have received so much advice.

"I think this is recognition from the scientific community of the work I've done here," said Dr. Wang, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "And I'm happy for UT Southwestern as well. I've spent the last 17 years or so here and I received all my scientific training here."

Dr. Kern Wildenthal, president of UT Southwestern, said the election of Dr. Wang to the National Academy of Sciences "is a testament not only to his standing as one of the country's top researchers, but also to UT Southwestern's continuing success in attracting and nurturing many of the top stars in biomedical science."

Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry at UT Southwestern and a mentor of Dr. Wang, said, "Xiaodong has single-handedly resolved the biochemical pathway responsible for the execution of programmed cell death. He has made multiple, very important discoveries and is one of the most cited scientists of the last decade. Induction into the National Academy of Sciences is an appropriate recognition of his work."

His most recent research centers on the biochemistry of cell death, or apoptosis, a phenomenon in which cells activate a self-destruction program. As the body generates new cells, older cells undergo programmed cell suicide. In the case of cancer cells, they are unable to carry out the self-destruct program, so they grow uncontrollably.

Dr. Wang has discovered several proteins that play a key role in apoptosis, including cytochrome c. This protein is important for generating energy and maintaining life and also is active in triggering apoptosis.

His continuing research could lead not only to treatments for cancer but also to therapies targeting the abnormal cells in neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Originally from China, Dr. Wang received his undergraduate degree from Beijing Normal University before moving to the United States to pursue graduate studies at UT Southwestern, where he earned a doctorate in biochemistry in 1991. His postdoctoral research at UT Southwestern was with Nobel laureates Dr. Joseph Goldstein, chairman of molecular genetics, and Dr. Michael Brown, director of the Erik Jonsson Center for Research in Molecular Genetics and Human Disease.

In 1995 Dr. Wang established his own laboratory as an assistant professor at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta. In 1996 he returned to UT Southwestern and now holds the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science.

Among his honors, Dr. Wang has received the Hackerman Award from the Welch Foundation, the Paul Marks Prize from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Eli Lilly Award from the American Chemical Society, the Schering-Plough Award from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Young Investigator Award from the Society of Chinese Biomedical Scientists in America.

The election of new members was announced during the 141st annual meeting of the academy in Washington, D.C.  The NAS is a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research.

Other UT Southwestern faculty who are members of the NAS and the year they were appointed are: Ronald W. Estabrook, Ph.D., 1979; Michael S. Brown, M.D., 1980; Joseph L. Goldstein, M.D., 1980; Jean D. Wilson, M.D., 1983; Jonathan W. Uhr, M.D., 1984; Alfred G. Gilman, M.D., Ph.D., 1985; Roger H. Unger, M.D., 1986; Steven L. McKnight, Ph.D., 1992; David L. Garbers, Ph.D., 1993; Ellen S. Vitetta, Ph.D., 1994; Johann Deisenhofer, Ph.D., 1997; Eric N. Olson, Ph.D., 2000; Thomas Südhof, Ph.D., 2002; and Masashi Yanagisawa, M.D., Ph.D., 2003.

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Media Contact: Amanda Siegfried
214-648-3404
amanda.siegfried@utsouthwestern.edu

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