April 18, 2018

MD Anderson researcher elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

BY Rolaynne Kimmons

Richard D. Wood, Ph.D., professor at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has been elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Founded in 1780, the Academy honors exceptional scholars, leaders, artists, and innovators and engages them in sharing knowledge and addressing challenges facing the world. The new members of the Academy were elected in 25 categories and are affiliated with 125 institutions.

Wood is only the fifth member of the MD Anderson faculty to be recognized with this distinction. Others include: James Allison, Ph.D. (2017), Ronald DePinho, M.D. (2010), John Mendelsohn, M.D. (2013) and Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D. (2007).

“Election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is a significant honor and a reflection of Rick’s important research accomplishments,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “We are proud of his outstanding work – and the work of our entire cancer-fighting team – which is moving us closer to ending cancer.”

Wood is the Grady F. Saunders, Ph.D. Distinguished Professor in Molecular Biology and a faculty member of the Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis. He also is a member of the Royal Society, European Molecular Biology Organization and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Wood is a recognized leader in the fundamental human genetics of carcinogenesis. He first established cell-free eukaryotic nucleotide excision repair and then reconstituted the complete 30 protein pathway. This singular feat allowed him to discover specific molecular defects in cancer-prone repair disorders including xeroderma pigmentosum. He then identified key DNA polymerases critical to genome stability and cancer.

Wood received a doctorate degree in biophysics from the University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's in mathematics and biology from Westminster College. He was a National Science Foundation graduate fellow and recipient of a National Institutes of Health graduate fellowship. Following postdoctoral training at Yale University and at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), Wood was appointed to the ICRF faculty and advanced to become principal scientist and honorary professor at University College, London. From 2001 to 2008, he was the Richard Cyert Professor of Molecular Oncology and leader of the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

The new Academy fellows, announced Wednesday, are an eclectic group, including a variety of scientists and professionals as well as 44th President of the United States Barack H. Obama, actor Tom Hanks and Supreme Court Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor. The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in October 2018 at the academy’s headquarters in Cambridge.

New members will sign the Book of Members, and their signatures will be added to the Academy members who came before them, including Benjamin Franklin (1781) and Alexander Hamilton (elected 1791) in the eighteenth century; Ralph Waldo Emerson, (1864), Maria Mitchell (1848), and Charles Darwin (1874) in the nineteenth; and Albert Einstein (1924), Robert Frost (1931), Margaret Mead (1948), Milton Friedman (1959), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1966) in the twentieth century.