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Huda Y. Zoghbi, M.D., Will Receive Pitt’s Dickson Prize at Science 2013—Convergence

PITTSBURGH, July 5, 2013 – A renowned molecular geneticist whose work uncovered the genetic underpinnings of several neurological disorders has been named this year’s recipient of the University of Pittsburgh’s Dickson Prize in Medicine.
Huda Y. Zoghbi, M.D., will accept the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s most prestigious honor during Science 2013—Convergence, a showcase of the region’s latest research in science, engineering, medicine and computation that will be held from Oct. 2 to 4 at Alumni Hall, Oakland. Dr. Zoghbi is a professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Neurology, and Neuroscience, and the Program in Developmental Biology at Baylor College of Medicine; director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital; and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
“Dr. Zoghbi has made invaluable contributions to our understanding of the genetic roots of the deadly neurodegenerative disorder spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 and of the autism spectrum disorder Rett syndrome,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean, School of Medicine. “Her work continues to demonstrate the role that basic genetics and molecular neuroscience can play in understanding complex brain disorders.”
In a January editorial published in Science, Dr. Zoghbi wrote “The best way to promote discovery is to invest in talented researchers driven by curiosity and passion, whether for disease-oriented questions or the more obscure mysteries of nature,” Dr. Levine noted. He added, “Her excellence in those realms is beyond question.”
At 11 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 3, Dr. Zoghbi will deliver the Dickson Prize in Medicine Lecture. Her talk is titled “Rett Syndrome and MECP2 Disorders: From the Clinic to Genes and Neurobiology.” In 1999, she discovered the gene mutation that causes Rett syndrome, a pediatric disorder in which children lose language and motor skills after initially normal neurocognitive development. In 1993, she and her collaborator, Harry Orr, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, found the mutation that leads to spinocerebellar ataxia type 1, characterized by progressive balance and coordination difficulties. Her lab also identified Math1, a gene that plays a critical role in the formation of a wide range of cell types, including inner ear hair cells and intestinal secretory cells.
Dr. Zoghbi received her bachelor’s degree in science and spent her first year of medical school at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Displaced by the civil war in Lebanon, she and her brothers were sent by her family to join relatives in Texas. She earned her M.D. in 1979 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and then went to Baylor College of Medicine to complete residency training in pediatrics in 1982, and in neurology and pediatric neurology in 1985. She is a member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In addition to Dr. Zoghbi, other renowned researchers also will deliver plenary lectures at Science 2013. The Mellon Lecture will be given by ubiquitin expert Alexander Varshavsky, Ph.D., of the California Institute of Technology; the Hofmann Lecture will be given by VEGF expert Napoleone Ferrara, M.D., formerly of Genentech and now of the University of California, San Diego; and the Provost’s Lecture will be given by Subra Suresh, Sc.D., president, Carnegie Mellon University.

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