, professor of molecular and human genetics and neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been elected as one of the newest members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious honorary titles. He is among 276 artists, scholars, scientists, and leaders in the public, non-profit, and private sectors elected to the Academy for the class of 2020.
Founded in 1780, the Academy was created to honor exceptionally accomplished individuals and engage them in advancing the public good. Today, the Academy continues to dedicate itself to recognizing excellence in a broad array of fields.
“Dr. Bellen’s groundbreaking research is addressing issues related to both rare and common neurological diseases facing humans today,” said Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor College of Medicine. “He is an excellent leader and mentor at Baylor College of Medicine and an extremely deserving recipient of this honor from the Academy.”
Bellen is one of the world’s premier researchers in Drosophila, or fruit fly, genetics. His group has made major contributions to the understanding of nervous system development, synaptic transmission and mechanisms of neurodegeneration. As the head of the Drosophila Gene Disruption Project, his laboratory has developed numerous sophisticated genetic tools and generated tens of thousands of reagents that have transformed Drosophila biology. His reagents are used by nearly every fly biologist.
Bellen’s current research focuses on the discovery of new rare human disease genes and elucidating the pathogenic mechanisms of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases using fruit flies, in collaboration with human geneticists worldwide. His lab is the home of the Model Organism Screening Center for the Undiagnosed Diseases Network of the National Institutes of Health. In the past few years, he has made major strides in solving key problems related to nearly 25 rare human diseases, and these studies also have revealed probing knowledge about Friedreich ataxia, Alzheimer disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Parkinson disease.
“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to many,” said Bellen, the March of Dimes Chair at Baylor College of Medicine. “I’m extremely indebted to my graduate students and postdoctoral fellows whose accomplishments through their creative thinking, motivation and scientific acumen have made many of our dreams come true. Second, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my colleagues who have created a collaborative and productive no-nonsense environment at Baylor College of Medicine and the Neurological Research Institute. Lastly, the tireless intellectual and moral support of my spouse, Catherine, combined with her exquisite sixth sense have been invaluable in shaping my career.”
Current Academy members represent today’s innovative thinkers in every field and profession, including more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. Baylor College of Medicine faculty who are American Academy of Arts and Sciences members include Dr. James Lupski, Dr. Bert W. O’Malley, Dr. JoAnne Richards, Dr. Peter J. Hotez, and Dr. Huda Y. Zoghbi.
See a full list of this year’s new members.