The American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) is pleased to announce that Christian P. Schaaf, MD, PhD, is the recipient of its inaugural Donald Seldin~Holly Smith Award for Pioneering Research. Dr. Schaaf is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine and Investigator at the Texas Children’s Hospital’s Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute.
Dr. Schaaf’s research focuses on understanding the genetic and molecular basis of human cognitive and behavioral disorders. The starting point of his work is always a patient or a family. After identifying the causative genetic defect, he performs deep and rigorous scientific inquiry. Two syndromes carry his name: Schaaf-Yang syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual disability, low muscle tone, feeding problems, and joint contractures; and Bosch-Boonstra-Schaaf optic atrophy syndrome, where patients have delayed development, intellectual disability, and atrophy of optic nerves, resulting in vision impairment. Subsequent to his genetic discoveries, others with these two syndromes have since been identified, and they are now being evaluated with an improved understanding of their conditions.
In the best tradition of the ASCI, Dr. Schaaf is a triple threat: a physician, a scientist, and an educator. “The degree to which I’ve been successful and fulfilled in the work that I do is due to the fact that I’m doing all three of these things,” he said. Dr. Huda Zoghbi, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and mentor at Baylor College of Medicine, supported Dr. Schaaf’s nomination. “Christian doesn’t give up easily, and he has solved numerous medical mystery cases, empowering patients and their families by providing them an accurate diagnosis,” she wrote in her letter accompanying his nomination. “He embodies all of the best qualities of a caring physician and rigorous scientist.”
Development of the Seldin~Smith Award began several years ago with the goal of connecting the legacies of two heroes of the physician-scientist community with exceptionally creative early-career physician-scientists. These heroes are Donald Seldin (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center) and Lloyd “Holly” Smith Jr. (University of California, San Francisco). The Seldin~Smith Award, now with its first honoree, complements the prestigious Stanley J. Korsmeyer Award from the ASCI, which recognizes senior physician-scientists who have made major contributions to science and mentorship. 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.
Dr. Schaaf was selected from a group of highly qualified nominees in the United States and abroad. The applicants were evaluated by a Selection Committee of current and former ASCI leaders: Mukesh K. Jain and Vivian G. Cheung (Co-Chairs), 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 ASCI will provide Dr. Schaaf with an unrestricted award of $30,000 to advance his academic efforts, and the leadership of the ASCI will recognize Dr. Schaaf at its 2016 annual meeting, April 15-17, in Chicago. Dr. Schaaf will deliver a scientific talk at the ASCI’s 2017 annual meeting.