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Victor Ambros named to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

By James Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

April 20, 2011

Victor R. Ambros, PhD, joined some 200 Nobel laureates, more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners and worldwide leaders drawn from the sciences, the arts and humanities, business, public affairs and the nonprofit sector when he was elected to the2011 class of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. The new class of 212 Fellows and 16 Foreign Honorary Members was announced on April 19, and will be inducted on Oct. 1 at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Mass.

Founded in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock and other scholar-patriots, the Academy has elected as members the finest minds and most influential leaders from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth. 

Dr. Ambros, the Silverman Chair in Natural Sciences and professor of molecular medicine, was recognized by the Academy for his work in identifying the function of microRNAs, the very short (approximately 22 nucleotide-long) single-stranded RNA molecules that are now understood to play a critical role in gene regulation. The first microRNA was discovered by Ambros and his lab in 1993 in a pathway controlling development in the nematode worm C. elegans, and at first seemed related only to a specific event in the worm’s development, and nothing more. In 2000, long-time collaborator Gary Ruvkun, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, discovered a second microRNA and reported evidence that microRNAs are evolutionarily ancient. Since then, Ambros and others have identified a wide variety of genes for diverse microRNAs in animals and plants, raising new questions about gene regulation and expression. Further research has linked microRNAs to hundreds of diseases including certain cancers, neurological disorders and cardiac disease. 

Ambros and his research collaborators have received numerous honors for their scientific achievements, including the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Gairdner International Award, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Genetics Society of America Medal. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2007. 

Other UMMS faculty who have been elected to the Academy include Craig C. Mello, PhD, 2006 Nobel Laureate, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and distinguished professor of molecular medicine and cell biology, who became a member in 2008. 

An independent policy research center, the Academy undertakes studies of complex and emerging problems. Its diverse membership of scholars and practitioners from many disciplines and professions gives the Academy a unique capacity to conduct a wide range of interdisciplinary, long-term policy research. Current studies focus on science, technology and global security; social policy and American institutions; the humanities and culture; and education. A list of newly elected Fellows and Honorary Foreign Members with their affiliations is available at