Asma Nusrat, MD to Receive 2024 Rous-Whipple Award

Asma Nusra

May 2, 2023 — The 2024 recipient of the ASIP Rous-Whipple Award is Dr. Asma Nusrat, F. Peyton Rous Professor and Director of Experimental Pathology in the Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor, MI).

The ASIP Rous-Whipple Award was first awarded in 1976 and was established in honor of the Presidents of the American Society for Experimental Pathology (ASEP) and the American Association of Pathologists and Bacteriologists (AAPB) when the coalesced societies emerged as the American Association of Pathologists (AAP, which was later renamed the ASIP in 1992). The ASIP Rous-Whipple Award is presented to a senior scientist with a distinguished career in research who has advanced the understanding of disease and has continued productivity at the time of the award, including impactful science, teaching, mentorship, leadership in the field of pathology, and contributions to the Society. 

Dr. Asma Nusrat earned her medical degree from the University of Punjab (Lahore, Pakistan), and then completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA). Dr. Nusrat remained at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital for a fellowship in Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary pathology, as well as a research fellowship in epithelial pathobiology. While at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Nusrat began investigating fundamental mechanisms of epithelial barrier regulation and wound repair. She became an Instructor in Pathology in 1992 and then an Assistant Professor in 1997 at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Nusrat was subsequently recruited to Emory University (Atlanta, GA) where she rose to the rank of Professor in 2007. In 2015, Dr. Nusrat was recruited to the Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School (Ann Arbor, MI) as the Aldred Scott Warthin Professor and Director of Experimental Pathology. She is now the F. Peyton Rous Professor of Pathology and continues to serve as Director of Experimental Pathology.

The research in Dr. Nusrat’s laboratory focuses on the biology of epithelial cell migration and mechanisms by which epithelia regulate intercellular junctions and transcellular permeability. In the intestine, for example, surgery and inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and infectious colitis are associated with ulceration and increased permeability across the epithelium. Rapid resealing of small mucosal wounds occurs by migration of epithelial cells, a process termed “restitution.” Restitution has also been observed in other systems such as renal, urinary and pulmonary epithelia. The long-term objective of Dr. Nusrat’s laboratory is to (i) determine molecular mechanisms of epithelial cell migration, (ii) identify factors that promote restitution, and (iii) ascertain mechanisms of intercellular junction regulation and permeability across the epithelium. Their hypothesis is that the migration of intestinal epithelial cells during wound closure is driven by lamellipodial extensions at the leading edge and is dependent on dynamic cytoskeletal remodeling with modification of intercellular junctions. To model these events, they have taken an in vitro reductionist approach using cultured epithelial cell lines. They have shown that Scatter factor/hepatocyte growth factor markedly enhances intestinal epithelial cell migration and wound closure by modifying intercellular junctions and focal cell matrix associations of epithelial. Epithelial cells, unlike other cell types such as fibroblasts and hematopoietic cells, migrate as sheets of cells with modified intercellular junction associations. Dr. Nusrat’s group found that lamellipodia of migrating intestinal epithelial cells are enriched in actin filaments and actin modifying proteins, villin and gelsolin. Such actin binding proteins likely play an important role in mediating rapid F-actin turnover, lamellipodial extrusion and epithelial cell migration. To investigate these possibilities, they have generated epithelial cell lines overexpressing gelsolin. They have also shown that the Rho family of small GTP binding proteins play an important role in regulating permeability across the intestinal epithelium by influencing the organization of tight junction associated proteins and the actin cytoskeleton. They are dissecting the mechanisms by which the Rho family of GTP binding proteins regulate organization of intercellular junctions and their associations with the cytoskeleton. Potential benefits of this work include a better understanding of epithelial cell migration and regulation of intercellular junctions/permeability across the epithelium. Such an understanding could facilitate the development of therapeutic strategies aimed at enhancing epithelial cell migration and wound closure.

Dr. Nusrat’s laboratory has been continuously funded for many years through grants from the NIDDK/NIH and private foundations, including the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, and has been extremely productive. Dr. Nusrat has published >224 original articles, reviews, and book chapters, including 17 papers in The American Journal of Pathology. Dr. Nusrat is frequently invited to speak at international symposia related to her field, and has served on numerous NIH Study Sections. Dr. Nusrat is also a practicing Gastrointestinal and Liver Pathologist and has contributed to mentoring and teaching graduate and medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty. She has directly supervised 8 graduate students (3 currently), 39 postdoctoral fellows (3 currently), and 31 clinical fellows. She served on dissertation committees for 31 other graduate students, and has mentored 11 junior faculty (2 currently). She is an Associate Editor for Molecular Biology of the Cell, previously served as Associate Editor for Gastroenterology and The American Journal of Pathology, and served as Editorial Board Member for the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the American Journal of Physiology. Dr. Nusrat is an elected member and previous President of the Pluto Society (the American Association of University Pathologists).

Dr. Nusrat has been a member of the ASIP since 2003. She served on the Program Committee for many years, beginning in 2005, and as Chair of the Program Committee from 2010-2012. She has been a frequent contributor to the ASIP scientific meetings, including serving as a member of the PISA2018 Program/Organizing Committee (and Meeting Co-Host). She also contributes to the Annual Meeting through continued engagement with the Program Committee as co-leader of the Mucosal Pathobiology Scientific Interest Group Co-Leader. Dr. Nusrat served on the ASIP Council from 2011-2020, including as President (2018-2019). She is now a member of the newly-formed President’s Circle. Dr. Nusrat served as Chair of the Membership Committee (2016-2017), Chair of the Meritorious Awards Committee (2017-2018), and as Chair of the Nominating Committee (2019-2020), and also as a member of the Nominating Committee (2020-2023). While in leadership of the Society, Dr. Nusrat participated in the Search Committee for the Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Pathology (2017) and Search Committee for the ASIP Executive Officer (2017-2018).

While the letters included in the nomination package described Dr. Nusrat as multi-dimensional, reflecting significant contributions to science, leadership, teaching, and training of the next generation of scientists, they were particularly strong when describing Dr. Nusrat’s contributions to research. In his letter of nomination, Dr. Sean P. Colgan (Joel Levine-Fred Kern Endowed Chair, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine) “…Dr. Nusrat is a pillar of leadership in the field of investigative pathology. Her distinguished career as a world-class physician-scientist has significantly advanced our understanding of mucosal diseases, her work has stood the test of time and she has shown continued productivity despite additional leadership responsibilities…” Likewise, in his letter, Dr. Mark E. Sobel (Executive Officer Emeritus, American Society for Investigative Pathology) noted Dr. Nusrat’s exceptionalism as a scientist: “…Dr. Nusrat has demonstrated that she is an outstanding scientist who approaches her exploration of meaningful and impactful conundrums in pathology and medicine with extreme scientific rigor. Her research findings have led to comprehensive new understandings of signaling and immunologic pathways in the epithelium…”

Dr Charles A. Parkos (Carl V. Weller Professor and Chair, Department of Pathology and Clinical Labs, University of Michigan Medicine) summarized this nomination nicely: “…Dr. Nusrat is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in the area of basic research on epithelial pathobiology, most notably for her contributions to understanding molecular mechanisms regulating barrier function and wound repair over the past 25 years… it has become clear that her outstanding scientific accomplishments stem, in part, from her highly collaborative nature that crosses departments, schools and institutions…. She is clearly a world’s leader and expert in her field of research while also encompassing the passion and commitment to serve and train the next generation of experimental pathologists...”

Dr. Nusrat will receive the 2024 ASIP Rous-Whipple Award during the 2024 Annual Meeting of the ASIP in Baltimore, MD (April 2024).