Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is one of four South Asian Americans named Oct. 18 to the National Academy of Medicine.
The National Academy of Medicine announced the election of 90 regular members and 10 international members during its annual meeting. New members are elected by current members through a process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health. “Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service,” said the organization in a press statement.
“It is my privilege to welcome this extraordinary class of new members. Their contributions to health and medicine are unmatched – they’ve made groundbreaking discoveries, taken bold action against social inequities, and led the response to some of the greatest public health challenges of our time,” said National Academy of Medicine president Victor J. Dzau. “This is also the NAM’s most diverse class of new members to date, composed of approximately 50 percent women and 50 percent racial and ethnic minorities. This class represents many identities and experiences – all of which are absolutely necessary to address the existential threats facing humanity,” said Dzau.
Also elected this year is Vamsi K. Mootha, professor of systems biology and medicine at Harvard Medical School; Anil Kumar Sood, professor and vice chair for translational research in the department of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Pakistani American Anita K.M. Zaidi, president of gender equality, and director of vaccine development and surveillance and of enteric and diarrheal diseases at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Murthy has served as the 19th and 21st surgeon general in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is recognized by NAM for “being the first person to be nominated twice as surgeon general of the U.S., and leading the national response to some of America’s greatest public health challenges: the Ebola and Zika viruses, the opioid crisis, an epidemic of stress and loneliness, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Murthy first served in the Obama administration and was one of President Joe Biden’s first nominations. He was confirmed by the Senate in March on a 57-43 vote.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been personal for Murthy, who has lost seven members of his family to the lethal virus. “This is a moment of tremendous suffering for our nation. More than half a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19. Many more are facing long-term health consequences and stressful financial struggles,” said Murthy during his confirmation hearing, stating that his highest priority will be to end the pandemic.
Mootha is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and a member of the Broad Institute. He was recognized by NAM for “transforming the field of mitochondrial biology by creatively combining modern genomics with classical bioenergetics.”
Mootha’s laboratory is based in the Department of Molecular Biology and Center for Genome Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital; there, he leads a research team dedicated to mitochondrial biology.
Mitochondria plays a key role in ion homeostasis, cell death, and signaling. Defects in mitochondria are associated with a spectrum of conditions, ranging from ultra-rare, inborn errors of metabolism to common degenerative diseases to the aging process itself.
Mootha has received a number of honors, including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant”; the Judson Daland Prize of the American Philosophical Society; the Keilin Medal of the Biochemical Society; a Padma Shri from the Government of India; and election to the National Academy of Sciences.
Sood was recognized by NAM for “discovering the mechanistic basis of chronic stress on cancer and the pivotal role of tumor-IL6 in causing paraneoplastic thrombocytosis; developing the first RNAi therapeutics and translating multiple new drugs from lab to clinic; and devising and implementing a paradigm shifting surgical algorithm for advanced ovarian cancer, dramatically increasing complete resection rates.”
Sood is also director of the multi-disciplinary Blanton-Davis Ovarian Cancer Research Program, and co-leads the Ovarian Cancer Moon Shot Program. He has received multiple honors, including the Hunter Award; the Margaret Greenfield/Carmel Cohen Excellence in Ovarian Cancer Research Prize; and the GCF/Claudia Cohen Research Foundation Prize for Outstanding Gynecologic Cancer Researcher. He is an elected member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Physicians, and was appointed as an American Cancer Society Professor in 2017.
Zaidi was recognized by NAM for “global leadership in pediatric infectious disease research and capacity development relevant to improving newborn and child survival in developing countries.”
She also oversees the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to achieve gender equality by investing in women’s economic empowerment, women’s leadership, and removing the barriers for women and girls to thrive. “The mission of the Gender Equality Division is a world in which women and girls have equal opportunity,” noted the Foundation.
Since joining the foundation in 2014, Zaidi has led a team focused on vaccine development for people in the poorest parts of the world, surveillance to identify and address causes of death in children in the most under-served areas, and significantly reducing the adverse consequences of diarrheal and enteric infections on children’s health in low and middle-income countries.