James Chen ('91) Wins Prestigious National Academy of Sciences Award

James Chen.

Published June 19, 2014

Dr. Zhijian (James) Chen, a Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Biochemistry, has been named the 2012 recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology.

Award Recognizes Notable Discoveries by Young Scientists

Past recipients of the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology represent an all-star list of prominent scientists, including numerous individuals that have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Zhijian (James) Chen, professor of molecular biology, George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Sciences, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at UT Southwestern Medical Center, has been named the recipient of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Award in Molecular Biology for 2012.

The National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology recognizes a recent notable discovery in molecular biology by a young scientist who is a U.S. citizen. The Academy cited Dr. Chen for his creative use of elegant biochemistry in elucidating processes important to understanding cancer and immunity. He received the award at a ceremony in Washington DC on April 30, 2012.  The award is sponsored by Pfizer and includes a $25,000 prize.

Dr. Chen conducted his doctoral work in the laboratory of the late Cecile Pickart (Biochemistry, 1985-1995). There, he studied mechanisms of protein degradation. In addition to Dr. Pickart’s excellent tutelage, James credits Dr. Ed Niles (emeritus), another former Biochemistry faculty member, with teaching him molecular biology.

After earning his PhD in 1991, James did postdoctoral work with Inder Verma, Robert Deans and Tom Maniatis at the Salk Institute, Baxter HealthCare and ProScript, respectively, before establishing his own lab at UT Southwestern Medical Center in 1997.

The roots of James’ current research interests can be traced back to his thesis work at UB. In Cecile Pickart’s lab, he studied the role of ubiquitin in protein degradation. As an independent investigator, James and his group have uncovered novel roles for ubiquitin in signaling pathways unrelated to degradation. These pathways include those important to innate and adaptive immune responses, and in normal cell cycle regulation that can be corrupted in some types of cancer. These findings were recognized by the National Academy of Sciences in presentation of the award.

Will Receive UB Distinguished Biomedical Alumnus Award

In October, Dr. Chen will be returning to UB to receive the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Distinguished Biomedical Alumnus Award for 2012.  

In addition ot the above recognition, Dr. Chen is a recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research from the Robert A. Welch Foundation (2005), the Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award in Science from the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (2007) and is a current Howard Hughes Medical Investigator (since 2005).