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. It 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 research career 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. 

Asma completed her Pathology residency at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston MA, where she also pursued a research and clinical fellowship in gastrointestinal/hepatobiliary pathology and epithelial pathobiology. She remained at BWH as a junior faculty until 1997 and was recruited to Emory University (Atlanta, GA) as an Assistant Professor and rose to the rank of Tenured Professor in 2007. During her time at Emory University, she developed a highly productive and successful research program centered on regulating epithelial barrier and wound repair, while also maintaining an active role as an attending GI pathologist. In 2015, Asma was recruited to the University of Michigan as Director of Experimental Pathology where she is the F. Peyton Rous Professor of Pathology.

Asma has established herself as a distinguished leader in epithelial pathobiology. Her career spans over a quarter of a century and is especially noted for her research that has shed light on the molecular mechanisms by which epithelial tight junction and desmosome proteins regulate gut epithelial barrier function. Furthermore, her work has significantly advanced our knowledge of wound repair mechanisms in the intestinal mucosa. Asma’s studies played a central role in establishing a new paradigm highlighting the dynamic, rather than static nature of tight junctions that function as signaling hubs to control mucosal barrier properties and epithelial homeostasis. Her research has revealed new insights into how pro-inflammatory cytokines compromise the epithelial barrier by promoting endocytosis and remodeling of junction proteins during inflammation. Asma’s studies have also provided insights into mechanisms by which leukocyte-derived proteins and lipid mediators crosstalk with specific epithelial receptors to orchestrate mucosal repair. In more recent years, she has partnered with bioengineers to encapsulate pro-repair molecules in nanoparticles and culture intestinal epithelial stem cells in a synthetic matrix, setting the stage for therapies to promote wound healing.

The high impact and success of Asma’s research program are evident in her high-caliber publication record.  She has a long track record of continuous, robust extramural NIH and foundation funding while serving in a busy administrative role as director of a large and highly successful division of experimental pathology and providing clinical service as a practicing gastrointestinal pathologist. In addition, Asma has had a long-standing commitment to mentoring students and faculty at all levels. For the past 20 years, she has been intimately involved in training many graduate students, postdoctoral and clinical fellows, and faculty from all over the globe. Evidence of her success is highlighted by previous trainees having achieved major faculty appointments at all levels in the US and abroad. She is actively sought after to organize and/or speak at national and international meetings.  Her accomplishments have been rewarded by election to the Association of American Physicians (AAP) and as a fellow of AAAS. Dr. Nusrat has been a highly active member of ASIP since 2003. In addition to serving as a member and chairing several major ASIP committees, she was elected as the President of ASIP (2018-2019) and has participated in the Search Committee for the Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Pathology (2017) and the 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 nomination letter, 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 in 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).