Baylor College of Medicine pioneering scientist Dr. Huda Zoghbi is this year’s recipient of the Mortimer D. Sackler, M.D. Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology, awarded by Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Zoghbi is a professor of molecular and human genetics, pediatrics, neuroscience, and neurology at Baylor, as well as director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
A member of the National Academy of Sciences, she has pioneered research on Rett syndrome and other rare brain disorders, and has advanced research of more common conditions including autism and adult neurodegenerative diseases.
In one of her most well-known achievements, Zoghbi provided a definitive genetic diagnosis for Rett syndrome and opened the door to a biological understanding and a search for treatment. Rett syndrome is a genetic neurological disease that usually affects young girls. Girls born with the disease develop normally for one or two years, but then begin to show progressive loss of motor skills, speech and other cognitive abilities.
Zoghbi has also found other genes, including Math1, an essential gene governing the development of cells critical for hearing, balance, and breathing, and the genes for spinocerebellar ataxia 1 and 6. Her work has led to a better understanding of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.
“We’re thrilled that Dr. Zoghbi is this year’s recipient,” said Dr. B.J. Casey, director of the Sackler Institute and the Sackler Professor of Developmental Psychobiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “She’s dedicated herself to this field for decades and in the process has made remarkable achievements. But we’re also recognizing her leadership in the field of neuroscience and her track record of mentoring young scientists as they embark on their own careers.”
“Dr. Zoghbi’s work truly exemplifies the importance of having a neurodevelopmental framework when considering how to understand mental health and mental disorders,” said Dr. Jay Gingrich, director of the Columbia Sackler Institute and the Sackler Institute Professor of Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. “Her work in these areas is of profound significance, and we are delighted to be able to recognize her achievements with this prize.”
The prize is named for the Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, one of the most creative scientists in the field of developmental psychobiology. The Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation, Inc. endowed the prize in a gift in 2009.
“To have a prize bearing the name of someone who’s made such remarkable achievements in this field is a great honor,” said Zoghbi. “There are so many deserving scientists and physician-scientists out there who have done fantastic work. I feel truly honored to have been selected.”
Zoghbi plans to donate the $100,000 prize money to a mentorship fund that she established to help young female scientists get their work – specifically research on “bold, new ideas” – off the ground.
She will participate in a grand rounds at Weill Cornell and deliver a public lecture in April.