Indian American Structural Biologist John Kuriyan Named Dean of Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine Basic Sciences


Vanderbilt University has named “one of the world’s leading structural biologists” John Kuriyan as its next dean of the School of Medicine Basic Sciences, C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. A university press release says Kuriyan’s appointment, effective Jan. 1, 2023, “will advance the university’s goal of expanding its global research impact by leveraging fundamental investigations in molecular, cellular and developmental biology into foundational advances in drug discovery, pharmacology and genetic engineering.” He will succeed Lawrence J. Marnett, the founding dean of Basic Sciences, who has agreed to extend his leadership through December.

In a career spanning over three decades, Kuriyan has been a Distinguished Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute contempt. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a foreign member of the Royal Society, the independent scientific academy of the United Kingdom.

“A widely published and cited scholar in biochemistry, cancer and the mechanisms of signal transmission inside cells, his research focuses on the workings of molecular switches in the cell, which has revealed pioneering new insights into the ways that many drugs are used to treat certain forms of cancer gain their specificity at the molecular level,” says the university press release. He is a co-founder of Nurix Therapeutics, a publicly-traded biotech company that is developing and testing therapies for late-stage cancers in the clinic.

“The opportunity to come to Vanderbilt and join the leadership of one of the nation’s best schools for cutting-edge biomedical research is a tremendous honor and privilege,” Kuriyan said in the press release. “I look forward to building on Larry Marnett’s outstanding leadership and anticipate even greater discoveries made by Vanderbilt scientists in the days ahead.”

Originally from India, Kuriyan studied for two years at the University of Madras before transferring to Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor of science in chemistry from Juniata College in 1981 and enrolled in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a doctorate in physical chemistry in 1986.

He has received numerous scientific honors, including the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences; the Stein and Moore Award and the DuPont-Merck Award, both from the Protein Society; the ASBMB-Merck Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; the American Association for Cancer Research Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research (given to investigators under the age of 40); and the Eli Lilly Award from the American Chemical Society. He was a Pew Biomedical Scholar from 1989 to 1993.

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