Dr. Peter J. Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and Dr. Huda Y. Zoghbi, professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Baylor, both also with Texas Children’s Hospital, have been elected as the newest members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary titles.
The Academy is one of the country’s oldest societies and independent policy research centers. It recognizes exceptional scholars, leaders, artists and innovators and engages them in sharing knowledge and addressing challenges facing the world. This year, Hotez and Zoghbi join more than 200 other individuals from a wide range of disciplines and professions as elected members of the Class of 2018.
“It is very fitting that the Academy recognizes Huda Zoghbi and Peter Hotez, without a doubt two of the most influential faculty members at Baylor College of Medicine,” said Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of the College. “Through science and advocacy, they have brought attention to important issues facing our world.”
Dr. Peter J. Hotez
Hotez is a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor and the Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital, director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Fellow in Disease and Poverty for the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. He also holds a title of University Professor at Baylor University and is founding editor in chief for the open access medical journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Hotez has been recognized for his work in research and advocacy as a world-renowned expert in neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). He founded the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in 2011. There, he leads an international team of scientists working to develop vaccines to combat some of the world’s most common yet potentially deadly diseases such as hookworm infection, schistosomiasis and other infectious and neglected diseases, including Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and SARS. These diseases affect millions of children and adults worldwide in some of the most poverty stricken areas.
In 2006 at the Clinton Global Initiative he helped to launch a Global Network for NTDs, and 10 years later in 2016, Hotez became known as the thought leader on the Zika epidemic in the Western Hemisphere and globally. He was among the first to predict Zika’s emergence in the U.S. He has been called upon frequently to testify before Congress and served on infectious disease task forces for two consecutive Texas governors.
He previously served as science envoy for the U.S. Department of State, focusing his work on vaccine and science diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. Department of State recently appointed him as a representative to the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation Board of Governors.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the Academy’s class of 2018 and to have the opportunity to join a group of amazing colleagues and scholars. I hope that my membership will help to continue amplifying our public outreach about the world’s poverty-related neglected diseases,” Hotez said.
Hotez received his M.D. from Weill Cornell Medical College, his Ph.D. from the Rockefeller University, both in New York, and his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Yale University.
Dr. Huda Y. Zoghbi
Zoghbi, who is the director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics, molecular and human genetics, neurology and neuroscience at Baylor, is the world’s leading expert on Rett syndrome. The disease strikes after about a year of normal development and presents with developmental regression, social withdrawal, loss of hand use and compulsive hand wringing, seizures and a variety of neurobehavioral symptoms.
After encountering girls with Rett syndrome, Zoghbi set out to find the genetic cause of the disease. She and her research team identified mutations in MECP2 as the cause and revealed the importance of MeCP2 for the function of various neuronal subtypes. Her work in mouse models showed just how sensitive the brain is to the levels of MeCP2. Too little MeCP2 causes Rett syndrome; doubling MeCP2 levels causes progressive neurological deficits. The latter disorder is now recognized as MECP2 duplication syndrome.
The discovery of the Rett syndrome gene provided a straightforward diagnostic genetic test, allowing early and accurate diagnosis. It also revealed that mutations in MECP2 can cause a host of other neuropsychiatric features ranging from autism to juvenile onset schizophrenia. Further, it provided evidence that an autism spectrum disorder or an intellectual disability disorder can be genetic even if it is not inherited.
Her discovery opened up a new area of research on the role of epigenetics in neuropsychiatric disorders. Her more recent work has shown that symptoms of adult mice modeling the duplication disorder can be reversed using antisense oligonucleotides that normalize MeCP2 levels. This discovery provides a potential therapeutic strategy for the MECP2 duplication syndrome and inspires similar studies for other duplication disorders.
Zoghbi and collaborators also have made many discoveries toward understanding mechanisms driving adult-onset neurodegenerative disorders and are now focused on identifying potential therapeutics for these disorders.
Zoghbi earned a B.S. from the American University of Beirut, where she also started medical school, later moving to Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., to complete her M.D. She then joined Baylor College of Medicine where she trained in pediatrics, neurology and molecular genetics.
“Membership in the Academy is not only an honor, but also an opportunity and a responsibility,” said Jonathan Fanton, president of the American Academy. “Members can be inspired and engaged by connecting with one another and through Academy projects dedicated to the common good. The intellect, creativity and commitment of the 2018 Class will enrich the work of the Academy and the world in which we live.”
The Class of 2018 members were elected in 25 categories and are affiliated with 125 institutions from across the globe. They include scientists, scholars, an academy award winner, philanthropists, CEOs, historians, a past U.S. president and a current Supreme Court judge.
Baylor College of Medicine faculty who currently are American Academy of Arts and Sciences members include Drs. James Lupski, professor of pediatrics and the Cullen Foundation Endowed Chair in Molecular Genetics; Bert W. O’Malley, chair and professor of molecular and cellular biology and the Thomas C. Thompson Chair in Cell Biology; JoAnne Richards, professor of molecular and cellular biology and member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Dora Angelaki, professor of neuroscience and the Wilhelmina Robertson Chair in neuroscience.
“This class of 2018 is a testament to the Academy’s ability to both uphold our 238-year commitment to honor exceptional individuals and to recognize new expertise,” said Nancy C. Andrews, the chair of the board of the American Academy. “John Adams, James Bowdoin and other founders did not imagine climatology, econometrics, gene regulation, nanostructures or Netflix. They did, however, have a vision that the Academy would be dedicated to new knowledge – and these new members help us achieve that goal.”
The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in October 2018 in Cambridge, Mass., at which the newly elected members will sign the Book of Members, and their signatures will be added to the Academy members who came before them, including Benjamin Franklin (1781) and Alexander Hamilton (elected 1791) in the 18th century; Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1864), Maria Mitchell (1848) and Charles Darwin (1874) in the 19th; and Albert Einstein (1924), Robert Frost (1931), Margaret Mead (1948), Milton Friedman (1959) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1966) in the 20th.