Baylor College of Medicine

Analytical tool predicts genes that can cause disease by producing altered proteins

Dr. David Nelson receives ASHG leadership award

Molly Chiu


Houston, TX -

The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named Dr. David L. Nelson, professor of molecular and human genetics and holder of the Cullen Foundation Professorship in Molecular Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, as the 2022 recipient of the Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award.

The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, is named in honor of the late Dr. Victor A. McKusick and is bestowed upon an individual who has exhibited exemplary leadership and vision in advancing the ASHG mission through the promotion and successful assimilation of genetics and genomics knowledge into the broader scientific community in areas ranging from science, medicine, public policy and/or health.

“It’s a great honor to receive ASHG’s leadership award named for Victor McKusick. Dr. McKusick was a giant in our field of human genetics; he coined the term genomics. I am humbled to be associated with him,” said Nelson, who also is director of the graduate programs in cancer and cell biology and integrative molecular and biomedical sciences at Baylor and co-director of the BCM Michigan Emory Fragile X Research Center and the Baylor Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center.

“The Society recognizes the importance of Dr. David Nelson’s critical research on Fragile X syndrome and his help in identifying the mutation and the FMR1 gene,” said ASHG President Dr. Charles Rotimi. “His work has been essential in our understanding of this devastating condition and has helped to improve the lives of people around the world. In addition, we recognize his leadership in nearly all facets of the American Society of Human Genetics as editor of AJHG, and as secretary and president of our Society. His advice and counsel have been invaluable.”

Nelson is one of the longest-serving members of the ASHG Board of Directors, having served two terms as secretary, one as editor of the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG), and one three-year term as president. As editor of AJHG, he enhanced the professional staff, laid the groundwork for ASHG’s open access journal, Human Genetics and Genomics Advances, and produced a Society history with past president profiles. As ASHG president, he initiated efforts to bring the Society to its current, forward-thinking strategic plan.

“Dr. Nelson has exhibited outstanding leadership of ASHG over his 30 years as a member,” said Dr. Brendan Lee, ASHG president elect, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics and Robert and Janice McNair Endowed Chair of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor. “He has also been a scientific leader in the discovery and study of Fragile X.”

Nelson was a scientific leader and co-discoverer of the mutation that causes Fragile X syndrome as an expansion of a trinucleotide repeat in the FMR1 gene by applying the Polymerase chain reaction PCR, a technique that allows rapid gene mapping and isolation of specific chromosomal regions. His contributions led to the description of mutations in genes causing Lowe syndrome, Incontinentia Pigmenti and FRAXE syndrome. Additionally, he was an early contributor to methods used to map and sequence the human genome, beginning as a graduate student using selectable genes to enhance somatic cell genetic mapping.

Nelson received his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he worked at MIT Center for Cancer Research in the group of David Housman. He carried out postdoctoral training at MIT and at the National Institutes of Health, where he studied neuroscience and defined genes encoding neurofilament proteins with Robert Lazzarini.

His research at Baylor began in 1985 as a postdoctoral trainee in the laboratory of the late Dr. C. Thomas Caskey, then director of the newly established Baylor Institute of Molecular Genetics. Nelson’s efforts to initiate human genome studies at Baylor and to define genes underlying X-linked disorders led to description of unstable repeat sequence mutations in Fragile X syndrome. This discovery offered an answer for the long-debated observation of “anticipation” in human genetic diseases. In his 30-plus years on the genetics faculty at Baylor, Nelson has mentored more than one dozen Ph.D. students in his laboratory, many of whom also have made fundamental contributions to human genetics.

ASHG will recognize this year’s award winners in the weeks prior to the Society’s annual meeting with a series of videos honoring their accomplishments. These videos also will be presented during the meeting, which will be held in Los Angeles Oct. 25-29.

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