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AAP and the ASCI Elect New Members from the School of Medicine Faculty

April 09, 2021

The Association of American Physicians (AAP) and American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) have each elected three members of the Yale School of Medicine faculty as new members. AAP’s goals include the pursuit of medical knowledge and the advancement through experimentation and discovery of basic and clinical science and their application to clinical medicine. The ASCI is dedicated to the advancement of research that extends our understanding and improves the treatment of diseases of all people, and members are committed to mentoring future generations of physician-scientists of diverse backgrounds and biomedical disciplines. The two organizations are holding a joint annual meeting virtually along with the American Physician Scientists Association, which advocates for trainees in the field.

AAP has announced the election of:

· Gary V. Desir, MD, chair of internal medicine, Paul B. Beeson Professor of Medicine, and vice provost for faculty development and diversity. His major contributions to science include the discovery a specific voltage-gated potassium channel that regulates body weight and insulin sensitivity, and the identification and characterization of a new enzyme, which he named renalase. Renalase metabolizes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) and participates in the regulation of cellular metabolism. Its secreted form binds to a specific receptor and activates intracellular signals that promote cell and organ survival. When dysregulated, renalase activity and signaling can also facilitate the development of certain cancers. His laboratory is now focused on developing therapeutic agents that modulate the renalase pathway.

· David A. Hafler, MD, chair and William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor of Neurology, and professor of immunobiology. His accomplishments include the identification of human autoreactive T cells revealing the molecular mechanism for self-antigen recognition; the identification of human regulatory T cells providing the first evidence of their dysfunction in autoimmune disease; and demonstrating the importance of sodium chloride in driving induction autoimmunity. Hafler also led one of the first identifications of genetic variants in autoimmune disease, then demonstrated these causal variants occur near binding sites for master regulators of immune differentiation. He recently profiled the T cell state of the healthy human central nervous system (CNS) identifying a novel mechanism for CNS immune privilege.

· Albert Ko, MD, chair of epidemiology of microbial diseases and professor of epidemiology and of medicine. His contributions are exemplified by his work on leptospirosis, which identified this rat-borne disease as a cause of epidemics in urban slum populations. He was the first to genetically manipulate the Leptospira pathogen and identify virulence factors, which has led to licensed rapid diagnostics and vaccine and therapeutic candidates. He has delineated the processes of climate, poor environment, and social marginalization which drive the transmission of leptospirosis, Zika, and dengue, and, in turn, have guided public health prevention of these emerging infections in developing countries. He also has been an important advisor to the governor of Connecticut on the state’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ASCI has elected:

· Joseph N. Contessa, MD, PhD, professor of therapeutic radiology and of pharmacology, and vice chair for basic science research in therapeutic radiology. Contessa directs Yale Medicine’s central nervous system radiology program. He specializes in treating patients with primary tumors of the brain, head, and neck, and at the base of the skull. He is part of a team of physicians and scientists who are actively researching the cellular mechanisms that tumors use to evade or “outsmart” standard cancer therapies in hopes of identifying new treatment approaches.

· Peggy Myung, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology and pathology. Her research program is centered on unraveling the tissue-tissue interactions that promote skin hair follicle formation and regeneration, and understanding how these same mechanisms intersect with disease states including skin cancer. Coupling mouse genetic models with live imaging and genomic approaches, she has uncovered some of the essential roles Wnt/beta-catenin signaling plays in both embryonic hair follicle development and adult hair follicle regeneration.

· Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and assistant chair for translational research in psychiatry. He directs the research track within the psychiatry residency. His research, both with patients and in animal models, aims to elucidate the pathophysiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, and other conditions characterized by maladaptive repetitive patterns of behavior and thought, and to use these insights to develop new somatic and psychological treatments.

Submitted by Robert Forman on April 09, 2021