April 30, 2002
MEDIA CONTACT: Joanna Downer
Beachy Elected to National Academy of Sciences
Johns Hopkins molecular biologist Philip A. Beachy, Ph.D., has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, an honorary society whose members advise the government on scientific matters.Beachy, professor of molecular biology and genetics at Hopkins and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has spent his career studying the "hedgehog" gene and protein, work that has advanced understanding of embryo development, cell differentiation and cancer development.
Hedgehog is a signaling molecule, a protein that carries messages from one cell to another. Beachy's early work revealed that hedgehog helps orchestrate the organization of cells into tissues and into organisms, adding to scientists' fundamental understanding of how embryos develop and the important role of signaling molecules in that process.
By studying genetically engineered mice, Beachy and his colleagues have identified the cells, tissues and developmental steps in which hedgehog signaling plays a key role. Their discoveries also revealed hedgehog's links to rare, naturally occurring birth defect syndromes in humans, and other scientists have linked hedgehog's misbehavior to development of certain cancers.
Beachy's work has also revealed how hedgehog is secreted by the cell, how it becomes activated, and what other proteins interact with it. Surprisingly, the work revealed that the hedgehog protein cuts itself in two and is attached to cholesterol - an essential and beneficial role for this otherwise much maligned molecule, he says.
Born in Red Lake, Ontario, Canada, in 1958, and a U.S. citizen by birth, Beachy attended Goshen College and Stanford University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1986. He was a staff associate researcher at the Carnegie Institute of Washington from 1986 until 1988, when he came to The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1993, and to full professor in 1998. He has also been affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) since arriving at Hopkins. He became a full investigator of the HHMI at Johns Hopkins in 2000.
Beachy is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1997, he received Maryland's Outstanding Young Scientist Award and in 1998 received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology.