Feinstein Institute awards Ross Prize to Baylor College of Medicine’s Huda Zoghbi

Feinstein Institute awards Ross Prize to Baylor College of Medicine’s Huda Zoghbi
Dr. Huda Zoghbi was recently honored as the winner of the sixth annual Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research at Northwell Health has selected Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Huda Zoghbi as the winner of the sixth annual Ross Prize in Molecular Medicine. The prize, which includes a $50,000 award, will be presented to Zoghbi on June 5 at the New York Academy of Sciences in Manhattan, followed by lectures from Zoghbi and other eminent researchers.

The Ross Prize is awarded through the Feinstein Institute’s peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Molecular Medicine. 

“It is an honor to be recognized by Molecular Medicine and to join the prestigious roster of past Ross Prize recipients,” said Dr. Zoghbi, professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. “I look forward to discussing my work and furthering a dialog that I hope will encourage young trainees to join the fields of neurobiology and molecular medicine.” 

The Ross Prize is made possible by the generosity of Feinstein Institute board members Robin and Jack Ross. It is awarded annually by Molecular Medicine to scientists who have made a demonstrable impact in the understanding of human diseases pathogenesis and/or treatment, and who hold significant promise for making even greater contributions to the general field of molecular medicine.

“Huda Zoghbi’s examination of the genetic causes for neurological diseases, such as spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome, has led to a better understanding of neurobiology,” said Feinstein Institute President Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, who also serves as editor emeritus of Molecular Medicine. “It is through her discoveries that researchers are able to identify new, potential therapies for these conditions that currently have no cure. 

After a brief award presentation, a symposium will be held during which Zoghbi will discuss her research in the field of genetics and neurobiology. Mary E. Hatten, Frederick P. Rose Professor at Rockefeller University, and Nathaniel Heintz, James and Marilyn Simons Professor at Rockefeller University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will also speak about issues in healthy and pathologic neurodevelopment.

To learn more about the Ross Prize celebration and symposium, and to register for the event, please visit nyas.org/RossPrize2018.

Zoghbi’s research focuses on identifying the genetic causes of neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental diseases and a broader understanding of neurobiology.

Her lab, along with Harry Orr’s team at the University of Minnesota, discovered that excessive repeats of the DNA segment, CAG, in the ATAXIN-1 gene causes the neurodegenerative disease spinocerebellar ataxia type 1, or SCA1.

SCA1 is a progressive movement disorder that begins in childhood and progressively causes problems with coordination and balance, speech and swallowing difficulties, muscle stiffness, and weakness in the muscles that control eye movement.

Over time, SCA1 may cause mental impairment, numbness, tingling or pain in the arms and legs and uncontrolled muscle tensing, wasting and twitches. Understanding the genetic cause for SCA1 has inspired additional research which may identify a therapy strategy for this condition.

Zoghbi’s lab has also identified the genetic mutations which cause Rett syndrome. Rett syndrome mostly targets young girls and is a postnatal neurological disorder which causes problems in diverse brain functions ranging from cognitive, sensory, emotional, and motor to autonomic functions. These can affect learning, speech, sensations, mood, movement, breathing, cardiac function and even chewing, swallowing and digestion.

Zoghbi’s discoveries provide a framework for understanding this disorder as well as the MECP2 duplication disorder and for charting a path for potential therapeutic interventions.

Past recipients of the Ross Prize are: Dr. Jeffrey V. Ravetch, the Theresa and Eugene M. Lang professor and head of the Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Immunology at The Rockefeller University; Charles N. Serhan, director of the Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Simon Gelman Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School and professor at Harvard School of Dental Medicine; Lewis C. Cantley, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; Dr. John J. O’Shea, scientific director at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; and Dr. Dan R. Littman, the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Professor of Molecular Immunology in the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University School of Medicine.

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