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Release: May 3, 2000

Welsh elected to National Academy of Sciences

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Michael J. Welsh, M.D., University of Iowa professor of internal medicine, and physiology and biophysics, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Welsh is only the third UI faculty member named to the nation's most distinguished scientific organization. He joins Donald A. Gurnett, professor, and James A. Van Allen, emeritus professor, both in the UI department of physics and astonomy, as a member of the academy.

The organization announced on May 2 the election of 60 new members and 15 foreign associates from nine countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The election was held during the business session of the 137th annual meeting of the academy in Washington, D.C. Those elected this year bring the total number of active members to 1,843.

Welsh, who joined the UI faculty in 1981, is internationally known for his breakthrough research into the genetic causes of cystic fibrosis, and for his work in developing strategies to treat or possibly cure the disease. Researchers know that cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic flaw; correcting this flaw may cure the disease. One such approach is gene therapy, in which scientists try to insert a healthy gene into the patient's cells. Often this involves using a vector, such as a disabled cold virus, to carry the normal gene to the patient.

Welsh and his colleagues also are focused on understanding why patients with cystic fibrosis develop lung infections. Their discoveries have shown that the cystic fibrosis bronchial passages have an impaired ability to kill bacteria. This predisposes patients to recurring lung infections. The work by Welsh's team is leading to methods that correct the defect in bacterial killing.

Welsh and his colleagues are working to develop gene therapy for cystic fibrosis and other genetic diseases. Last year, he and his research team received a five-year, $7.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue their studies.

Welsh's other research interests include projects designed to understand the sense of touch and the perception of pain. These senses involve a new family of ion channels. The work will improve the understanding of control of blood pressure and may lead to the development of better drugs to treat pain.

Welsh received his medical degree at the UI in 1974. He is a recipient of numerous scientific awards and a member of several professional organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine of the NAS.

Established in 1863, the NAS is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. One of its key missions is to advise the government on science and technology.

Additional information about the NAS is available online at http://national-academies.org. A full directory of NAS members can be found at http://national-academies.org/nas.

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