Leading NYU Langone Researchers Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Prestigious Honor Awarded to Joseph LeDoux, PhD and Ruth D. Nussenzweig, MD, PhD for Significant Achievements in Original Research

May 2, 2013 - 3:54pm

Joseph LeDoux, PhD, professor, Departments of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychiatry and Ruth S. Nussenzweig, MD, PhD, the C.V. Starr Professor of Medical and Molecular Parasitology in the Departments of Microbiology and Pathology at NYU Langone Medical Center, have joined the prestigious ranks of the National Academy of Sciences, becoming two of 84 members elected to the Academy this year in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Election to the National Academy of Sciences, a non-profit organization established in 1863 to advise the federal government about science and technology, is widely considered one of the highest honors accorded to a scientist.

Dr. LeDoux, 63, who is also the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at NYU's Center for Neural Science, has focused his research on studying the neural basis of emotion and memory, especially in relation to fear and anxiety. His research has elaborated the details of how the brain detects and responds to danger, and how traumatic memories are formed, stored and retrieved. A fundamental assumption in this work is that the brain has multiple memory systems, each devoted to different kinds of memory functions. Through his research, Dr. LeDoux has mapped the neural circuits underlying memories about danger in the brain, and has identified cells, synapses and molecules that make the learning and memory possible.

By mapping the basic biology of how the brain detects and responds to danger, Dr. LeDoux has revealed important information about where our emotions come from and what goes wrong in emotional disorders, such as phobic and post-traumatic stress disorders. His groundbreaking research has led to a better understanding about why these conditions are so hard to control and has offered insight on how to better treat the disorders.

Dr. Nussenzweig, 85, has devoted her career to the search for a vaccine for malaria, a life-threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted through mosquito bites. Malaria infects more than 219 million people every year, killing at least 600,000, mostly young children in Africa. Dr. Nussenzweig’s seminal work over the past five decades has inspired worldwide efforts to boost immunity against malaria, including a promising vaccine called RTS,S that is now in clinical trials among young African children.

As a young scientist working for NYU Langone’s malaria-research program in the 1960’s, Dr. Nussenzweig helped overturn the common assumption that malaria parasites were too complex to vaccinate against. In a major breakthrough, she discovered that irradiated sporozoites, the infectious components of the malaria parasite, could make mice immune to malaria. She and her husband, Victor Nussenzweig, the Hermann M. Biggs Professor of Preventive Medicine at NYU Langone, later helped identify the first target for a malaria vaccine, a protein on the surface of malaria sporozoites called circumsporozoite, or CSP. Antibodies to CSP, the two researchers found, prevent malaria-causing parasites from infecting the liver and multiplying. This work led them to co-discover the CSP gene, which, together with the CSP protein, is now the basis for every malaria vaccine effort.

“We are so proud of the achievements of these two leading researchers, who have devoted their lives to advancing research in their respective fields,” said Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD, senior vice president and vice dean for Science and chief scientific officer at NYU School of Medicine.“Few scientists achieve this level of success, and it is due to their commitment and devotion to the goals of their research that such important advances have been made.”

To date, nine NYU School of Medicine faculty have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In addition to Drs. LeDoux and Nussenzweig, the members include: Richard P. Novick, the Recanati Family Professor of Science and professor of microbiology and medicine at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at NYU School of Medicine; Ruth Lehmann, PhD, the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Professor of Cell Biology, director of the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Center for Biology and Medicine at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, director of the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Center for Stem Biology and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Dan R. Littman, MD, PhD, the Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Professor of Molecular Immunology and professor of pathology and microbiology; Rodolfo Llinas, MD, PhD, the Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience; and David D. Sabatini, MD, PhD, the Frederick L. Ehrman Professor of Cell Biology; Richard W. Tsien, DPhil, the Druckenmiller Professor of Neuroscience, director of the NYU Neuroscience Institute and chair of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience; and J. Anthony Movshon, PhD, adjunct professor of physiology and neuroscience.