Rajalaxmi Natarajan, Ph.D.
February 25, 2016
Dr. Christian Schaaf, assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and investigator at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Seldin-Smith Award for Pioneering Research.
The Seldin-Smith Award was established by the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) to recognize the most promising young physician-scientists in the country. One recipient will be chosen annually for this honor. Founded in 1908, ASCI is one of the oldest and most highly-respected medical honor societies for physician-scientists in the U.S.
“I am humbled to receive this prestigious award named after Drs. Donald W. Seldin and Lloyd H. ‘Holly’ Smith, heroes of academic medicine. For the past 50 years, they have provided exemplary leadership in science, medicine and education,” says Schaaf. This award recognizes contributions to all three areas. For me, diligently pursuing patient care, science, and medical education has made my work profoundly meaningful.
Schaaf, a medical geneticist who solves complex and challenging medical mysteries, combines astute clinical observations with meticulous basic research. His studies have led to important contributions in understanding the genetic basis of autism spectrum disorder and to the discovery of several genes for neurodevelopmental disorders and rare genetic syndromes. Two of these rare syndromes now bear his name: Bosch-Boonstra-Schaaf Optic Atrophy syndrome and Schaaf-Yang syndrome. Providing patients with an accurate diagnosis can be empowering. It ensures improved guidance, appropriate genetic counseling, and the ability to connect with similarly-affected families worldwide. These are important steps toward a better quality of life.
For the inaugural Seldin-Smith Award, ASCI sought nominations from outstanding physician-scientists who have demonstrated exceptional creativity and accomplishments in biomedical research. The selection committee comprised top luminaries in academic medicine, including four Nobel Laureates. Schaaf was chosen unanimously after a stringent two-step review of numerous nominations of exceptional early-stage physician-scientists from the U.S. and abroad.
Schaaf will be formally recognized at the ASCI dinner in Chicago on Friday, April 15. Drs. Seldin and Smith, as well as Schaaf’s mentor, Dr. Huda Zoghbi, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute and professor at Baylor College of Medicine, will be among the distinguished guests present at the ceremony.
In addition, Schaaf will receive an unrestricted grant of $30,000 to advance academic efforts, an invitation to deliver a research talk at the 2017 ASCI/AAP Joint Meeting and mentoring by the members of the Seldin-Smith Award Selection Committee and Advisory Committee.