Two Yale Professors Elected to National Academy of Medicine
On Oct. 17, Saad Omer, for his research on vaccine hesitancy and maternal immunization, and Peter Glazer, for his work on cancer therapy and gene editing, were elected to the National Academy of Medicine’s 2022 Class.
Eric Wang, Senior Photographer
Saad Omer and Peter Glazer GRD ’87 MED ’87 have been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, joining 100 of the world’s leading scholars in the fields of healthcare and medicine.
Throughout his career, Omer led studies investigating maternal immunization and vaccine refusal around the world. Back in New Haven, Glazer has been immersed in research on cancer cells, exploring links between low oxygen levels in tumors and cancer therapy.
Announced on Oct. 17, their election is a formal recognition of their scientific research and leadership.
“It is an honor to be elected to the National Academy of Medicine,” Glazer wrote to the News. “But while it is a nice personal recognition, I also look at it as a recognition of the terrific contributions of the many students, post-docs, and others who have passed through my lab and of the many great collaborators I have been lucky to work with.”
Established as the Institute of Medicine in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine is one of the three constituent bodies of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The organizations work outside of government to provide scientific analysis and inform public policy.
Each year, NAM newly elects 90 domestic and 10 international members that are recognized as “individuals who have made major contributions” to the fields of medicine, healthcare and public health, according to a NAM press release.
New members are nominated by current members, often by those outside of a nominee’s home institution, according to Omer. NAM’s Articles of Organization also mandate that at least one quarter of new members must be selected from fields outside of healthcare, including law, engineering and the social sciences.
“This recognition is considered one of the most prestigious in the field of medicine,” Lynn Wilson, a professor of therapeutic radiology and of dermatology, said. “I have known Dr. Glazer for 32 years, and I can attest to the fact that he’s extremely well deserving of this recognition, given the fact that he is a world-class physician, scientist and leader.”
Glazer, chair of therapeutic radiology and a professor of genetics at the School of Medicine, investigates the differences between normal cells’ and cancer cells’ capability to repair DNA. Glazer said his lab designs attempts “to exploit these differences for cancer therapy,” and as a result has developed approaches that inhibit DNA repair to treat cancer.
Recently, according to Glazer, his research has uncovered “unexpected vulnerabilities” in cancer cells based on a link between cancer cell metabolism and DNA repair. His lab has identified new therapies that utilize hypoxia, or a low level of oxygen in tumors, to suppress DNA repair and create genetic instability in cancer cells. This approach has led to multiple new clinical trials for cancer therapy.
Glazer’s work has also focused on refining approaches for gene editing to treat genetic diseases using molecules called oligonucleotides, or short single-stranded fragments of genetic material. The oligonucleotides bind to DNA to form a “triplex helix,” which triggers DNA repair and facilitates gene editing.
While Glazer told the News that he was not expecting his election to NAM, Wilson considered the recognition “a reflection of [Glazer’s] leadership and expertise.” Few radiation oncologists, according to Wilson, have been recognized by NAM, emphasizing the extent of Glazer’s “outstanding” career contributions and its significance to the department of therapeutic radiology.
“Given the level of extraordinary value in this recognition, it’s exemplary of how Dr. Glazer sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the department,” Wilson said. “And I think that that’s valuable, because it’s helped the department continue to maintain its excellent reputation over his several decades of leadership.”
Saad Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and associate dean of global health research at the School of Medicine, was aware that he had been nominated to NAM, but was surprised and “pleasantly gratified” by his election — especially since, according to Omer, the award is considered a “capstone” for individuals later in their careers.
Omer’s election recognized his research on maternal immunization, examining the impact of vaccinating mothers on protecting infants around the world. For the last 20 years, Omer has also explored the issue of vaccine hesitancy, developing and evaluating interventions to minimize vaccine refusal.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Omer’s work on immunization became increasingly pertinent to countries’ pandemic responses. According to Omer, his work has informed policy on COVID-19 and vaccination campaigns, from the World Health Organization’s recommendations to individual nations planning worldwide.
Omer, though, emphasized that his research is a team effort.
“At the end of the day, it’s a combination of a lot of contributions of my mentors and my team members, various mentees and research group members,” Omer said of his NAM election. “That is gratifying. Even though it’s an individual recognition, in reality, it’s a result of a lot of other people’s contributions as well. And I’m very fortunate in that.”
Moving forward, Omer noted that his research aims “to focus on impact,” addressing questions that improve life and health for individuals and populations while informing science-based policy decisions. Omer explained that he’s interested by the potential of mRNA vaccines for maternal immunizations, “multigenerational problems” like how to address misinformation highlighted by the pandemic and the impact of climate change on human health.
Most recently, Omer has been conducting a series of studies that analyze disease transmission within households “at a very micro level” between family members and communities. His small-scale analysis aims to incorporate a variety of methodologies and understand zoonotic, or human-animal, transmission as well.
“Professor Omer has made outstanding and impactful contributions to the field of global health,” Melinda Pettigrew GRD ’99, the interim dean of the Yale School of Public Health, wrote to the News. “We are thrilled that his work on COVID-19, maternal immunization, and interventions to reduce vaccine refusal are being recognized and honored by election to the National Academy of Medicine, which is considered one of the highest honors in the field.”
Since its establishment in 1970, the National Academy of Medicine has elected more than 2,200 members.