Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Appoints Renowned Researcher Kuriyan as Dean of Basic Sciences | Journalist VUMC

John Kurian, PhD

Vanderbilt University has named John Kuriyan, PhD, one of the world’s leading structural biologists, as its next dean of the School of Basic Sciences of Medicine, announced C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Kuriyan’s appointment, effective January 1, 2023, will advance the University’s goal of expanding its global research impact by leveraging basic research in molecular, cellular and developmental biology for fundamental advances in the drug discovery, pharmacology and genetic engineering.

Kuriyan, professor emeritus of molecular and cellular biology and professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for more than 30 years, will succeed Lawrence Marnett, PhD, founding dean of basic sciences, who agreed to extend his mandate until December. Kuriyan is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Foreign Fellow of the Royal Society, the UK’s independent scientific academy.

“As an outstanding and highly accomplished biomedical researcher, Kuriyan fully understands Vanderbilt’s university-wide ambitions to propel our research reputation forward,” said Raver, who spearheaded Kuriyan’s nomination to the post of dean. “The fact that he chose to advance his career at Vanderbilt speaks volumes about our ability to make quantum leaps in the life-changing innovation he is known for.”

A widely published and cited researcher in the fields of biochemistry, cancer, and signaling mechanisms inside cells, Kuriyan’s research focuses on the operation of molecular switches within the cell, which has revealed new Pioneering knowledge of how many drugs are used to treat certain forms of cancer acquires its specificity at the molecular level. Kuriyan is the co-founder of Nurix Therapeutics, a publicly traded biotechnology company that develops and tests therapies for late-stage cancers in the clinic.

“The School of Medicine Basic Sciences is a cornerstone of Vanderbilt’s research enterprise, critically bridging the gap between scientific discovery and positively impacting society,” said Chancellor Daniel Diermeier. “We are delighted to welcome John Kuriyan, an internationally renowned biomedical scientist and innovator, to lead this vital area for Vanderbilt and strengthen it for the future.”

Kuriyan, originally from India, studied for two years at Madras University before transferring to Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Juniata College in 1981 and enrolled in graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry in 1986. His influential graduate advisors were the distinguished scientists Martin Karplus and Gregory Petsko, who continued to mentor Kuriyan while he completed a brief postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University on protein dynamics. Karplus won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing multi-scale models for complex chemical systems in 2013.

“The opportunity to come to Vanderbilt and join the leadership of one of the nation’s top schools for cutting-edge biomedical research is a tremendous honor and privilege,” Kuriyan said. “I am impressed by Vanderbilt’s deeply collaborative and collegial community, its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to research, its unique partnership with a world-class medical center, and its unwavering commitment to diversity and belonging. Above all, I am inspired by the long-term investment in basic science that has been demonstrated by the leadership of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, manifested in how they have created an inter-institutional environment in which science foundation will be nurtured and allowed to flourish. I look forward to building on the exceptional leadership of Larry Marnett and anticipating even more important discoveries made by Vanderbilt scientists in the days ahead.

Kuriyan has received numerous scientific accolades, including the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences; the Stein and Moore Prize and the DuPont-Merck Prize, both from the Protein Society; the ASBMB-Merck Prize from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; the American Association for Cancer Research Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research (awarded to researchers under the age of 40); and the Eli Lilly Award from the American Chemical Society. He was a Pew Biomedical Fellow from 1989 to 1993.

“John Kuriyan is an exceptional scientist, and we are thrilled to welcome him to this vitally important leadership role for Vanderbilt,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, chief scientific and strategic officer and executive vice president for research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who participated in the search committee. “His vision and deep appreciation of curiosity-driven research and its translation to human ends, along with his thoughtful insights and myriad scientific contributions, make him an ideal dean for the basic sciences.”

Raver expressed his thanks to Marnett and members of the Medical School Dean of Basic Science Research Committee, led by John Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as leaders of the university and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center for their guidance and cooperation. Marnett served as Dean of the School of Basic Sciences of Medicine since its inception in 2016, and he helped shape the school’s unique biomedical research partnerships after the university and VUMC legally separated.

“John Kuriyan is recognized worldwide for the quality and impact of his research,” said Marnett, who will return to faculty after a sabbatical. “We share a collaborative approach to leadership and engaging our community to generate the best ideas for the future of the school, so I am delighted with John’s leadership. He will be a beacon in attracting top biomedical scientists to the campus.


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