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James R. Downing, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tenn., has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of 213 new members, which include some of the world's most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, and artists, as well as civic, business and philanthropic leaders.


Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country's oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing-and opportunities available to-the nation and the world. Members of the 2016 class include winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the Wolf Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; the Fields Medal; and the Grammy Award and National Book Award.

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JAMES R. DOWNING, MD... - Click to enlarge in new windowJAMES R. DOWNING, MD. JAMES R. DOWNING, MD

"Dr. Downing is a visionary scientific and medical leader whose work is helping the research community to understand the genetic basis of cancer and use that information to improve treatment and increase survival of young cancer patients," said Marlo Thomas, St. Jude national outreach director and daughter of hospital founder, Danny Thomas. "On behalf of everyone at St. Jude, we are so pleased the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has recognized Dr. Downing's contributions and leadership in speeding progress against childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases."


A world leader in pediatric cancer research, Downing has dedicated more than two decades to uncovering the genetic basis of childhood cancer. He was instrumental in launching the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP), which has sequenced the normal and cancer genomes of more than 800 young cancer patients with some of the least understood and most aggressive tumors. The project made Time magazine's 2012 list of top 10 medical breakthroughs. In 2013, Downing was a finalist on Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. The PCGP has produced groundbreaking discoveries in brain tumors, childhood leukemia, a cancer of the peripheral nervous system, an eye tumor, and the degenerative disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The project has also produced new computational tools that benefit the broader field of genomic medicine.


Most recently, Downing was appointed to a Blue Ribbon Panel to advise Vice President Joe Biden's National Cancer Moonshot Initiative through the National Cancer Institute.


As St. Jude president and CEO, Downing is the architect of a six-year strategic plan to expand St. Jude clinical care and research programs throughout the country and around the world.


Prior to taking the helm of St. Jude, Downing served as the institution's scientific and deputy director and as an executive vice president in the organization. He became the hospital's sixth chief executive officer in 2014.


Gary Gilliland, MD, PhD, President and Director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, also has been elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


"I am grateful to be honored by the Academy. It is humbling to be included in this list of astonishing names in the arts and sciences, and it is particularly gratifying to know that the work of other Fred Hutch scientists, past and present, has been recognized by this historic organization," said Gilliland, who took the helm as Fred Hutch's president and director in January 2015. He is the eighth Hutch faculty member to receive the honor.

GARY GILLILAND, MD, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowGARY GILLILAND, MD, PHD. GARY GILLILAND, MD, PHD

Gilliland, who holds doctorates in microbiology and medicine, spent 20 years on the faculty at Harvard University, where he was professor of medicine and professor of stem cell and regenerative biology. He was also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the director of the leukemia program at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and has earned numerous honors for his work. The bulk of his initial work at Harvard focused on the genetic basis of blood cancers.


In 2009, Gilliland left Harvard to serve as senior vice president and head of global oncology at Merck Research Laboratories. In 2013, he returned to academia when he became the vice dean and vice president of precision medicine at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he worked to bring together research and clinical care initiatives across disciplines to create a model for delivering personalized medicine to patients with a range of diseases.


Gilliland has received many honors and awards for his academic research, including the William Dameshek Prize from the American Society of Hematology, the Emil J. Freireich Award from MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award from the American Society for Clinical Investigation, of which he is an elected member. He is also an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association of Physicians.


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