(L-R) Xiadong Cheng, Ph.D. and Michael Lorenz, Ph.D.
(L-R) Xiadong Cheng, Ph.D. and Michael Lorenz, Ph.D.

Two professors at the McGovern Medical School have been elected fellows of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

They are among 391 new AAAS fellows chosen this year by their peers in recognition of scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science. This year’s fellows will be honored at a ceremony on Feb. 18, 2017, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

Xiaodong Cheng, Ph.D., a professor of integrative biology and pharmacology and the Walter and Mary Mischer Distinguished Professorship in Molecular Medicine, was recognized for his work on stress-related chronic illnesses. His research team is working on understanding the physiology and pathophysiology of an exchange protein activated by cyclic AMP called EPAC, a key molecular switch for stress response. The team has developed inhibitors for this important drug target.

“The long-term activation of the stress-response system can disrupt your body’s balance, like a malfunctioning thermostat, and eventually leads to the development of chronic diseases,” Cheng said.

“The levels of EPAC expression are often elevated in response to chronic stress. By specifically targeting this molecular switch, we can potentially treat chronic illnesses, such as chronic pain, by fixing the thermostat.”

Cheng’s laboratory is testing compounds designed to block this switch. The hope is that this research will lead to new treatments for severe or chronic pain, which affects approximately 1 in 3 adults in the United States.

“Dr. Cheng is an exceptional faculty member and well-funded by the National Institutes of Health. He is heavily involved in both research and medical school teaching,” said John HancockM.B, B.Chir, Ph.D., chair of integrative biology and pharmacology and the John S. Dunn Distinguished University Chair in Physiology and Medicine.

Michael Lorenz, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, was recognized for his efforts to develop new treatments for fungal infections.   Lorenz’s work centers on a particular type of fungal infection called candidiasis.

“All human health boils down to the study of our cells and that’s what we do in the biological sciences,” said Lorenz.

Candida infections are a major health issue affecting tens of millions worldwide. Also known as thrush, these infections can occur in the mouth, the throat and the female urinary tract. His laboratory primarily focuses on the most serious manifestation of the disease, which is often life-threatening in patients hospitalized for other serious illnesses.

“We are trying to understand how Candida is able to resist the attack of the immune cells. The goal is to develop new targets for antifungal drugs,” Lorenz said.

“Mike’s use of Candida – macrophage interactions as a facile and relevant model system has proved to be an elegant tool to assess the fine line between fungal virulence and immune recognition. His seminal research findings have garnered national and international recognition,” said Theresa Koehler, Ph.D., chair of microbiology and molecular genetics and the Herbert L. and Margaret W. DuPont Distinguished Professor in Biomedical Science.

The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals.