Chen, Hooper elected to National Academy of Medicine
DALLAS – Oct. 17, 2022 – The National Academy of Medicine today announced the election of two UT Southwestern Medical Center faculty members – Lora Hooper, Ph.D., Chair of Immunology, and Zhijian “James” Chen, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Biology and Director of the Center for Inflammation Research – one of the highest honors attainable in the fields of health and medicine.
With their election, UT Southwestern now has 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), along with 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, placing the institution among the nation’s elite academic medical centers. Ten UTSW faculty members – including Drs. Hooper and Chen – are members of both organizations. Drs. Chen and Hooper are among UT Southwestern’s 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators.
“The election of Drs. Hooper and Chen to the National Academy of Medicine recognizes their contributions to our understanding of critical processes related to the body's immune response to invasive bacteria or viruses,” said Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern and member of the National Academy of Medicine. “Dr. Hooper's work has led to discoveries of proteins that can help fight off intestinal infections while Dr. Chen's discoveries identified a signaling pathway critical to the development of treatments for autoimmune diseases or cancer.”
New members are elected by current members through a process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health. Drs. Chen and Hooper were elected at the Academy’s annual meeting this week and will be inducted during ceremonies next year.
“The election of Drs. Hooper and Chen into the NAM continues the trend of increasing recognition of UT Southwestern as one of the elite academic medical centers in the world through its outstanding faculty and the impact they make in advancing scientific boundaries,” said W. P. Andrew Lee, M.D., Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost, and Dean, UT Southwestern Medical School.
Dr. Hooper, who holds the Jonathan W. Uhr, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Immunology and is the Nancy Cain and Jeffrey A. Marcus Scholar in Medical Research, in Honor of Dr. Bill S. Vowell, is working to understand how resident intestinal bacteria influence the biology of mammalian hosts. Dr. Hooper’s discoveries have helped explain how a host peacefully coexists with the trillions of beneficial bacteria present in the intestinal tract and how these bacteria can shape immunological and metabolic functions in their host.
The Hooper lab’s studies in germ-free mice have led to the discovery of a number of secreted antimicrobial proteins that kill bacteria, which attach to the intestinal surface. These proteins limit the bacterial invasion of intestinal tissues and prevent infection. In ongoing work, her lab is using biochemical and structural approaches to understand the molecular mechanisms by which antimicrobial proteins kill bacteria. Her lab uses genetically engineered mouse models to determine how intestinal epithelial cells sense bacterial invasion and direct immune responses that limit bacterial access to deeper host tissues. The Hooper lab has also used germ-free mice to make discoveries about how gut bacteria promote fat absorption from the diet, which could help explain how intestinal bacteria can influence the susceptibility to disorders such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
“I am incredibly honored to be elected to the National Academy of Medicine. This is really a recognition of the excellent and insightful work of my many lab members over the years, and of the superb scientific environment at UT Southwestern,” said Dr. Hooper, Chair and Professor of Immunology as well as a Professor of Microbiology and member of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UTSW.
Dr. Chen, who holds the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, is broadly interested in mechanisms of signal transduction, namely how a cell communicates with its surroundings and within itself and how a cell detects harmful or foreign insults and mounts an appropriate response to restore homeostasis. Specifically, Dr. Chen’s lab focuses on ubiquitin signaling in the NF-κB pathway and innate immune sensing and signaling of cytosolic DNA and RNA.
Dr. Chen’s research into complex cellular biochemistry has led to the discovery of pathways and proteins that trigger immune and stress responses. Dr. Chen, who was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in 2019, has identified proteins, such as the mitochondrial protein MAVS, that are crucial to the body’s defense against RNA viruses such as influenza, Ebola, and SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Chen and his team are dissecting a signaling pathway involving a novel DNA sensor – cyclic GMP-AMP (cGAMP) synthase, or cGAS – which activates an interferon response that plays a critical role in immune defense against pathogens and malignant cells, as well as in autoimmune diseases such as lupus. Treatment of these autoimmune diseases could involve chemical inhibition of cGAS, whereas cGAMP and its derivatives may be used as adjuvants for vaccines and cancer immunotherapies.
“I am very honored and humbled to be elected to the National Academy of Medicine. This is an endorsement that the discoveries made through the hard work of members of my laboratory have the potential to benefit patients and improve health. I am very grateful to the UT Southwestern community for the support that has enabled these discoveries,” said Dr. Chen, Professor of Molecular Biology, Director of the Center for Inflammation Research, and member of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UTSW.
UT Southwestern’s distinguished faculty members
Since 1970, UT Southwestern has had 29 National Academy of Medicine members, beginning with the 1970 selection of Bryan Williams, M.D., and includes several department chairs, four of UT Southwestern’s Nobel Laureates, and all three of UT Southwestern’s presidents. In addition to Drs. Chen and Hooper, current National Academy of Medicine members at UT Southwestern and the year of their induction are: Samuel Achilefu, Ph.D. (2021); Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D. (2020); Sean Morrison, Ph.D. (2018); Joseph Takahashi, Ph.D. (2014); Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D. (2009); Bruce Beutler, M.D. (2008); Ellen Vitetta, Ph.D. (2006); Steven McKnight, Ph.D. (2005); Helen Hobbs, M.D. (2004); Eric Olson, Ph.D. (2001); Norman Gant, M.D. (2001); Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D. (1999); Carol Tamminga, M.D. (1998); Scott Grundy, M.D., Ph.D. (1995); Michael Brown, M.D. (1987); and Joseph Goldstein, M.D. (1987).
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.