Victoria Lu

Two Yale professors have been elected to the National Academy of Medicine. 

The National Academy of Medicine, otherwise known as NAM, has elected Michelle Bell and Daniel Colón-Ramos as new members this October. Bell is a professor at the Yale School of the Environment and the School of Public Health, while Colón-Ramos is a professor of neuroscience and cell biology at the Yale School of Medicine. The appointment, which is considered one of the greatest distinctions in the medical world, is an immense achievement for both professors. 

“Election to the NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the field of medicine and health,” Bell wrote in an email to the News. “I am incredibly honored for the NAM to recognize the contribution of my work to saving lives and improving health.”

Bell and her research team study the effects of environmental conditions on human health — particularly, the way climate change and “issues of justice” impact health. As stated by Bell, her research is most rewarding when it directly impacts policy, thus impacting society as a whole. 

According to their website, the NAM is an academy for exceptional professors. The academy elects no more than 90 national and 10 international members each year through a nomination and election process.

“NAM members are elected based on their overall body of research,” Bell wrote. “NAM recognizes individuals who have made contributions to the advancement of medical sciences, health care, and public health, and who have demonstrated commitment to service.”

According to its website, members of the NAM work together to act as the most reliable source for credible scientific and policy advice on matters concerning human health.

NAM has been an essential part of the scientific society both in the United States and globally, Colón-Ramos said. The academy has guided the scientific policy that makes basic research, such as the research performed by Colón-Ramos and his lab, possible.

He feels being elected to the academy is a very high honor and is excited to begin contributing to the work of the NAM.

“The academy is a historical record of the quest to understand more and set up systems that enable people for whom science is a calling to be able to do their work and contribute to society,” he said. “I think that is the importance of academies and why it is considered so prestigious.”

When asked which achievement led to this honor, Colón-Ramos insisted it was not one specific achievement, but rather the culmination of many accomplishments throughout his entire career. 

He has been at Yale for 12 years, and during this time, he and his lab have made many breakthroughs in the understanding of interactions between neuronal cells. 

“They look at what I have achieved in terms of my research contributions and also my contributions to enterprise,” Colón-Ramos said.“It’s not a lifetime contribution in the sense that my career is still going. But it’s a lifetime contribution up to this point.”

Sisi Yang GRD ’21, a senior graduate student working on neuronal cell biology in Colón-Ramos’ lab, commented on his election to the NAM. 

According to Yang, Colón-Ramos sent an email to the lab about the news, claiming that it was a reward for all of the work the lab has done over the last 10 years. 

“We, as a research team, considered it a result of what we’ve done,” Yang said. “Nobody can achieve great science alone. I think it was teamwork.” 

Some of the lab’s most notable work has been on the connectome, which maps neural connections in the brain, and on proteins involved in the glycolysis pathway which are important for energy production, according to Yang.

As well as achievements in research, Colón-Ramos helped set up Ciencia Puerto Rico to improve connections between Puerto Rican scientists and increase access for those who are interested in it. According to him, one of his primary missions as a member of the academy is to promote science equity.

“That comes from an acknowledgement that not all sectors of society have equally benefited from the opportunity to participate in science or from the products of science,” he said. “My goal as a member of the academy is to help advise the setting up of infrastructures similar to the people that preceded me. But this time, infrastructure that expands both the impact and the reach of science so that it benefits other segments of society and the world.”

NAM was founded in 1970 and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

When asked about which accomplishments may have led to Colón-Ramos’ election, Yang spoke about a paper by Mark Moyle, an associate research scientist in Neuroscience at the lab, which was recently accepted by the journal Nature. According to Yang, the paper establishes a new way to study the connectome of the neuron, which is a map of neural connections in the brain. 

Yang also mentioned that the lab discovered a group of proteins in the glycolysis pathway, which are essential for the production of energy. She believes this discovery is another of the many achievements that got Colón-Ramos elected. 

Mai Chen | mai.chen@yale.edu

Kaitlin Flores | kaitlin.flores@yale.edu