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Three members of the UW School of Medicine faculty were elected this week to the National Academy of Sciences. They are among the 120 new members and 30 international members. They are also among the 59 women named, the most women chosen in a single year. Six faculty from the UW as a whole are among the newly elected.

The National Academy of Sciences seeks to recognize accomplished individuals, foster the common good and conduct cross-disciplinary studies to inform public policy. The latest election brings the total number of UW School of Medicine faculty in the National Academy of Sciences to 34.

Meet the new members

Portrait of Rachel Klevit

Rachel Kevit

Rachel Klevit, PhD, is the Edmond H. Fischer-Washington Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Biochemistry at the UW School of Medicine and a professor of Chemistry in the UW College of Arts & Sciences. Her lab studies molecular recognition, particularly how proteins interact in human diseases. One of her lab’s efforts is to study the large, multifunctional protein produced by the BRCA1 gene. In other work, Klevit’s team looks at small heat shock proteins. They are interested in classes of these proteins that cells manufacture under stress, for example, from heat, changes in pH or lack of oxygen.

The structure and function of these proteins, which are implicated in certain muscle wasting diseases and some cancers, have been difficult to solve. Klevit’s team brings different nuclear magnetic resonance approaches to this challenge. Her lab also uses NMR to study a sensor enzyme critical to bacterial virulence. This enzyme responds to environmental signals, such as the presence of antimicrobials, by turning on or off genes involved in infection.

Klevit became fascinated with chemistry at Reed College and later was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, an award not given to women until a year before she was accepted.

Portrait of Julie Overbaugh

Julie Overbaugh

Julie Overbaugh, PhD, is an affiliate professor of Microbiology at the UW School of Medicine and an HIV researcher of the Human Biology Division, Public Health Sciences Division and Office of Education and Training at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She is the 12th Fred Hutch researcher elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Overbaugh has been involved in decades-long research of HIV transmission in Kenya, Africa, as part of The Nairobi HIV/STD Project. Her research there focused on transmissions from mothers to infants, as well as transmissions in sex workers. Her team’s findings provided important information to HIV-positive mothers on protecting their children. In her team’s research with sex workers, they saw the role that co-infections have in shaping the number of HIV variants that can be spread to other people. In a larger context, her work on HIV has provided new insights into protective antibody response and innate immunity.

More recently, Overbaugh’s lab has been studying the emergence of the Zika virus as an infection of global concern. Her team has been looking at banked samples to see whether disease-causing Zika virus has been circulating in East Africa. Her team is also seeing which innate immune responses help control Zika replication, and whether African viruses, or the immune responses to them, are different from the pathogenic Zika viruses found in the Americas.

Portrait of Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong, PhD, is a professor and chair of the Department of Biological Structure at the UW School of Medicine. Her longstanding research covers neuronal circuits — how the circuitries of nerve cells develop, break and reassemble. Her study model is the vertebrate retina, the part of the eye that receives light and converts it into signals sent to the brain. Her team applies a diversity of methods to investigate the structure and connectivity of nerve cells in normal and altered retinas.

Other research in her lab is on reconstructing detailed connectivity maps of neurons in the inner and outer retina, and how transmission of nerve signals helps establish and maintain connectivity between retinal neurons. In collaborative research with other labs, Wong is working toward studying how the eyes encode a visual scene. In addition, she is on the steering committee for the National Institutes of Health Audacious Goals Initiative to restore vision lost from damage to the retina and optic nerve.

Along with these UW Medicine individuals, three University of Washington faculty were elected this week: Anna Karlin, PhD, professor of Computer Science and Engineering; Randall LeVeque, PhD, professor emeritus of Applied Mathematics, and Julie Theriot, PhD, professor of Biology.

Learn more and read the entire article on UW Medicine’s Newsroom.

Guest Writer: Leila Gray, UW Medicine Newsroom.