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The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) today announced the election of two UT Southwestern Medical Center faculty members – Dr. Lora Hooper and Dr. Steven Kliewer, one of the highest honors attainable by American scientists.

With their election, UT Southwestern now has 23 NAS members on its faculty, placing the institution among the most elite group of academic medical centers in the country.

Dr. Hooper, whose research focuses on understanding how resident intestinal bacteria influence the biology of mammalian hosts, is a professor in the departments of Immunology and Microbiology. She also has an appointment in the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense.

Dr. Steven Kliewer, professor in the departments of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology, is a recognized expert in the field of orphan nuclear receptors.

“These outstanding scientists are illuminating fundamental processes related to some of the most serious illnesses of the 21st century, and their work could lead to significant improvements in the prevention and treatment of these diseases. Both Dr. Hooper and Dr. Kliewer are exceptional scientists, inspiring teachers, and valued colleagues. They are highly deserving of this honor, which their election by their peers represents,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern and holder of the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Prior to joining the UT Southwestern faculty in 2002, Dr. Kliewer identified the therapeutic target for a class of drugs used to fight type 2 diabetes. Since his recruitment, he has shown that a hormone secreted by the gut – FGF19 – regulates bile acid metabolism in the liver.

Dr. Eric Olson, chairman of Molecular Biology, said, “This is wonderful and well deserved recognition of Steve Kliewer’s groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of the gene regulatory mechanisms that govern metabolism and physiology.” Dr. Olson is also director of the Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine and holds the Pogue Distinguished Chair in Research on Cardiac Birth Defects; the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Science; and the Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research.

Dr. Kliewer runs a joint laboratory with Dr. David Mangelsdorf, chairman of Pharmacology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the medical center who earlier had identified the bile acid receptor and its downstream targets in the liver. Their work has identified two novel targets (the bile acid receptor and FGF19) that are now clinical candidates for new therapeutic interventions for gastroenterological disorders, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

“Steve’s FGF19 finding was the missing link in the feedback loop by which bile acids regulate their own synthesis,” said Dr. Mangelsdorf, who holds the Alfred G. Gilman Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, and the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Molecular Neuropharmacology in Honor of Harold B. Crasilneck, Ph.D. “He’s considered one of the founding members of the field of orphan nuclear receptors and has made seminal contributions with clear importance to medicine and biology,” Dr. Mangelsdorf added.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be elected to the NAS!” said Dr. Kliewer. “I have been very fortunate to work with outstanding scientists throughout my career. I would especially like to acknowledge my colleagues, postdocs, and students here at UT Southwestern and my former colleagues at GlaxoSmithKline. They made this award possible,” added Dr. Kliewer, who holds the Nancy B. and Jake L. Hamon Distinguished Chair in Basic Cancer Research.

Dr. Hooper’s discoveries have helped explain how a host peacefully coexists with the trillions of beneficial bacteria present in the intestinal tract and may ultimately reveal alterations in these populations that can make it possible for disease-causing bacteria to overtake them. Dr. Hooper’s work has provided insights into the molecular mechanisms that mediate the interaction between the remarkably dense and complex community of intestinal microbes and the host intestine to maintain health. As a result, it is becoming increasingly clear that these normal flora not only influence the possibility of pathologic agents to cause infections, but also the susceptibility to many other disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

“I am deeply honored and thrilled to have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences,” said Dr. Hooper. “This recognition really belongs to all of the outstanding members of my laboratory who have had the creativity and vision that has fueled our discoveries. I am also deeply grateful to UT Southwestern and to the Department of Immunology for providing me with an outstanding matrix in which to grow my research program,” added Dr. Hooper, who holds the Jonathan W. Uhr, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Immunology; is a Nancy Cain and Jeffrey A. Marcus Scholar in Medical Research, in Honor of Dr. Bill S. Vowell; and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Bruce Beutler, director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense and recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, said, “We live in harmony with a huge community of microbes within our own bodies, neither allowing them to invade vital tissues nor trying to eradicate them. This balancing act has puzzled immunologists for decades. Lora has made some of the most spectacular discoveries in the field.” Dr. Beutler is a regental professor who holds the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, in Honor of Laverne and Raymond Willie, Sr.

A faculty member since 2003, Dr. Hooper has an undergraduate degree in biology from Rhodes College and received a doctorate in molecular cell biology and biochemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also completed a postdoctoral fellowship. Her previous honors include: The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (2013) and being named a Burroughs Wellcome Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease (2007).

Dr. Kliewer majored in biochemistry at Brown University, then earned his doctorate in molecular biology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was subsequently a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. He joined GlaxoSmithKline, Inc. in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where he founded a scientific group devoted to exploring orphan nuclear receptors as drug discovery targets. Among his honors, Dr. Kliewer received the Falk Foundation’s Adolf Windaus Prize for Bile Acid Research presented at the XXIII International Bile Acid Meeting in Germany (2014) and the Endocrine Society Ernst Oppenheimer Award (2005).

The NAS is a private, non-profit society of distinguished scholars. Established by Congress in 1863, the NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected to the NAS by their peers, based on outstanding contributions to research.

Other UT Southwestern faculty who are members of the NAS and the years they were elected are: Dr. Michael Brown, 1980; Dr. Joseph Goldstein, 1980; Dr. Jean Wilson, 1983; Dr. Jonathan Uhr, 1984; Dr. Alfred Gilman, 1985; Dr. Roger Unger, 1986; Dr. Steven McKnight, 1992; Dr. Ellen Vitetta, 1994; Dr. Johann Deisenhofer, 1997; Dr. Eric Olson, 2000; Dr. Thomas Südhof (now adjunct), 2002; Dr. Joseph Takahashi, 2003; Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa, 2003 (now adjunct); Dr. Melanie Cobb, 2006; Dr. David Russell, 2006; Dr. Helen Hobbs, 2007; Dr. Bruce Beutler, 2008; Dr. David Mangelsdorf, 2008; Dr. Luis Parada, 2011; Dr. Beth Levine, 2013; and Dr. Zhijian “James” Chen, 2014.