Microbiology professor Jorge Galán never expected to get elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) — until it happened.

After all, he said, “if you’re in science thinking about an academy membership or a Nobel Prize, it’s over before you start.”

In an Oct. 21 press release, the prestigious body announced Galán and five other Yale professors as lifetime members of the organization’s most recent class. They will join more than 2,000 members of the Academy in advising policy decisions and addressing key issues in science. According to the group’s press release, election to the organization is considered “one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine” and recognizes those who demonstrate “outstanding” achievement in their area of study.

“These newly elected members represent the most exceptional scholars and leaders whose remarkable work has advanced science, medicine and health in the U.S. and around the globe,” Victor Dzau, the Academy’s president, said in the press release.

Galán has studied microbiological concepts in salmonella and campylobacter. The other University professors being inducted include one professor at the Yale School of Public Health, epidemiology and public health professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla; one professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, immunobiology professor Akiko Iwasaki; as well as four professors from the School of Medicine — Iwasaki, Surgery Chair Nita Ahuja, immunobiology professor David Schatz GRD ’80 and neuroscience professor Nenad Sestan GRD ’99.

The Academy elected a total of 100 members this year. According to its press release, the cohort, which is chosen by current members, does not just consist of scientists in health professions. At least 25 percent of those selected hail from fields like law, engineering and the humanities. Yale’s latest inductees have extensive background in research and healthcare, and all of them are professors.

This year’s class is the largest in recent years, and it also boasts the largest contingent of Bulldogs. In contrast, last year’s 85 new members only included one Yale professor — Neurology Department Chair David Hafler. Similarly, in 2017, neuroscience professor Amy Arnsten was the sole Yale professor selected. This pattern was the same in 2016, but in 2015, there were five members from Yale’s faculty.

Galán said that he looks forward to working in the Academy to address health issues like microbial resistance — which, he said, is “extremely important and is already a major challenge.” Just like more abstract problems such as climate change, antibiotic resistance is not easy to notice on a day-to-day basis, and he added that it’s still “a major issue that society will have to deal with.”

“The clock is ticking,” Galán said.

Three of the professors who received the honor this year did not respond to requests for comment. But for Perez-Escamilla, the election to the Academy “motivates [him] enormously” to continue working, he wrote in an email to the News sent from Shanghai, China. There, he worked with the Chinese government and universities on how to improve maternal public health nutrition research.

“Being elected to the NAM is very special to me as it reflects the recognition that my peers within Yale and all over the world have for my lifetime contributions in the field of public health nutrition,” he wrote.

Galán, Sestan and Perez-Escamilla all said that they learned that they had been elected via email. Sestan told the News in an email that it took him a few seconds to register what had happened once he received the announcement. Then, he called his wife. A few days later, he told his parents — who, he wrote, were “very happy, but also probably relieved” that he had been working on something related to medicine. Earlier this year, Sestan and a team of researchers at the Yale School of Medicine received nationwide media attention for their work in reviving cells in dead pig brains.

But as much as the honor celebrates their own accomplishments, they said, the real thanks should go to their colleagues, family and research partners.

“These [accolades] are the icing on the cake,” Galán said. “What should drive you as a scientist is the challenges … and the privilege of doing scientific research every day — the grinding.”

The National Academy of Medicine was founded in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, according to its website.


Matt Kristoffersen | matthew.kristoffersen@yale.edu