Dr. Huda Zoghbi, a ground-breaking geneticist at Baylor College of Medicine and the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, will receive the 2013 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize from The Rockefeller University in a ceremony on Dec. 5.
The prize, established by Nobel Laureate Dr. Paul Greengard of The Rockefeller University with the funds from his 2000 Nobel Prize, celebrates outstanding contributions of women in science. It is one of the most prestigious awards given to a woman scientist in the United States.
Zoghbi is a natural candidate. Her contributions have broken new ground, beginning in 1993, when she and her collaborator, Harry Orr, led the team that found the gene associated with spinocerebellar ataxia 1, a devastating adult-onset neurological disorder. Yet her passion was children, and in 1999, she found the gene for Rett syndrome, a neurological disorder that becomes apparent in girls during infancy. Later, she found the gene Math1, a master gene that has a key role in different functions from respiration to hearing to brain tumor development.
Her search for answers to the difficult problems presented by these genetic disorders led to the establishment of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s, where she has assembled a distinguished group of geneticists and neurological researchers who collaborate on new research and new ventures. Zoghbi’s vision for the NRI involves collaboration at every level - interdisciplinary, interdepartmental and inter-institutional - to increase the pace of discoveries by pioneering a multidisciplinary research approach to the complex challenges of understanding brain development and function.
Zoghbi, a professor of neuroscience, pediatrics, molecular and human genetics and neurology at Baylor College of Medicine as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, credits BCM’s nurturing and collaborative atmosphere with boosting her success.
"This prize is so meaningful to me because it gives hope to every female scientist that - no matter how small she starts or how challenging the road she travels - if she stays the course, she will do well. I started with no anticipation of success, just a passion about the problem I wanted to solve."
"I am grateful to my mentors, particularly (Dr.) Art Beaudet, and my colleagues and trainees at Baylor College of Medicine as well as my long-time collaborator Dr. Harry Orr (of the University of Minnesota). It was really the nurturing Baylor environment that transformed me from a physician into a well-rounded scientist. I would not have had such a rewarding career anywhere else."
"It is also wonderful for Dr. Greengard to seek to redress the gender imbalance at the top levels of academia by singling out women scientists. On a personal note, I am touched that he thought this the best way to honor the mother he never met." Greengard named the award for his mother, who died while giving birth to him.
"Huda Zoghbi is one of those unique individuals who combine outstanding scientific ability with a vision for advancing the work in a collaborative way that requires attention to detail and the big picture," said Dr. Paul E. Klotman, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine.
"Dr. Zoghbi is a phenomenal physician and truly deserving of such a distinguished award. As director of Texas Children’s Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, her leadership has been critical to the success of our ongoing research efforts to understand and identify potential cures and treatments for neurological disorders affecting children and adults worldwide," said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of Texas Children’s Hospital.
Caring mentor, tireless advocate
Long an advocate for women in science, Zoghbi has a reputation as a caring mentor and a tireless advocate for her colleagues. Receiving the Greengard Award recognizes both her own career and her role in advancing the careers of other women in the biomedical sciences.
The Greengard Award includes a $100,000 honorarium and reflects Greengard’s hope that by putting the spotlight on the accomplishments of women scientists, he can increase the likelihood that they will receive their fair share of science’s highest awards.
Zoghbi is a native of Lebanon and received her undergraduate degree from the American University in Beirut. She completed her first year of medical school there, but when the Lebanese civil war broke out, she transferred to Meharry Medical College in Nashville. She then did her residency and fellowship raining at Baylor College of Medicine and was invited by Beaudet to join the faculty.
She has received many awards, including the Neuroscience Prize from the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation; the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science; the Bristol Myers-Squibb Neuroscience Distinguished Achievement Award; the Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award in Neuropsychiatry; the Neuronal Plasticity Prize, 4th Forum of European Science, IPSEN Foundation; the ASO Science and Technology Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Kilby Award for Extraordinary Contributions to Society through Science, Technology, Innovation, Invention, and Education; the E. Mead Johnson Award from the Society for Pediatric Research; the Sidney Carter Award from the American Academy of Neurology; the Bernard Sachs Award from the Child Neurology Society; and most recently, the Dickson Prize in Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh.
She is a member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.