Recipients of the 2018 Seldin~Smith Award for Pioneering Research: Anna Greka, MD, PhD, and Deepak Nijhawan, MD, PhD

Dr. Greka
Photo: Martin Adolfsson

Dr. Nijhawan

The American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2018 Donald Seldin~Holly Smith Award for Pioneering Research: Anna Greka, MD, PhD, and Deepak Nijhawan, MD, PhD.

Dr. Greka focuses on developing targeted treatments for kidney diseases, where there has been virtually no progress in the last 40 years. Her laboratory studies kidney podocytes, critical blood-filtering cells whose loss is responsible for progression to kidney failure. In 2013, Dr. Greka’s group identified TRPC5 as an important mediator of podocyte injury. In 2017, her team developed AC1903, a TRPC5-specific blocker, which protected podocytes from death and suppressed disease progression in multiple animal models of kidney disease. This discovery has formed the basis for precision therapies for kidney diseases, now in active development. Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, President of Brigham Health, who nominated Dr. Greka for this recognition, wrote that this latest work “has launched precision medicine for kidney disease — a long-awaited day in the field of nephrology.” Dr. Greka’s nomination was supported by Dr. Eric S. Lander, President and Founding Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Dr. Nijhawan focuses on identifying targets for cancer treatment. In particular, his laboratory has investigated indisulam and CD437, identified as anticancer agents in the 1990s but not subsequently developed because their targets were poorly understood. In 2016, Dr. Nijhawan’s laboratory identified the target of CD437, followed in 2017 by identification of the target of indisulam and of cancer-cell variants most susceptible to its effects. This has created new interest in these agents, which are now in active development in collaboration with Dr. Nijhawan’s team. Dr. Steven L. McKnight, Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research at UT Southwestern, nominated Dr. Nijhawan. “These discoveries, I predict, constitute the most promising avenue of any for biomedical research to achieve the discovery of entirely new therapeutics over the upcoming decade,” he wrote. His nomination was supported by Dr. William G. Kaelin Jr., Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Greka is currently Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School; Institute Member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; and an Associate Physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), where she joined the faculty in 2012. She received her MD/PhD in 2004 from Harvard Medical School, followed by a residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH, 2007) and a fellowship in nephrology at MGH and BWH (2009). Her work has been supported in part by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. She was a 2014 recipient of an ASCI Young Physician-Scientist Award and was elected to the ASCI in 2017.

Dr. Nijhawan is currently Assistant Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Hematology and Oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, where he joined the faculty in 2012. He received his MD/PhD in 2005 from UT Southwestern, followed by an internship and residency in internal medicine at MGH (2007) and a fellowship in medical oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (2011). His work has been supported in part by the Sass Foundation for Medical Research, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, Harrington Discovery Institute, and the National Cancer Institute.

In addition to sharing an unrestricted award of $30,000 to advance their academic efforts, Drs. Greka and Nijhawan will be recognized on April 21, 2018, as part of the AAP/ASCI/APSA Joint Meeting (April 20-22), and they will deliver scientific talks at the 2019 Joint Meeting.

The Seldin~Smith Award, now in its third year, began with the goal of connecting the legacies of two iconic figures in medicine — Donald Seldin (UT Southwestern) and Lloyd “Holly” Smith Jr. (University of California, San Francisco) — with exceptionally creative early-career physician-scientists. The ASCI is grateful to Drs. Seldin and Smith, who provided the inspiration for this Award through their storied careers of developing generations of outstanding physician-scientists, and to the donors who have made the program possible.

Nominations were evaluated by a Selection Committee of current and former ASCI presidents: Mukesh K. Jain (Chair), Vivian G. Cheung, Charles L. Sawyers, Elizabeth M. McNally, and Stuart H. Orkin. Finalists were evaluated by an Advisory Committee comprising five physician-scientist luminaries: Joseph L. Goldstein (Chair), Michael S. Brown, Arthur Weiss, Stanley B. Prusiner, and Robert J. Lefkowitz.

The Seldin~Smith Award complements two prestigious ASCI awards (the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award and the ASCI / Harrington Prize for Innovation in Medicine) that recognize senior physician-scientists who have made major contributions to science, mentorship, and translation of discovery to clinical impact.