HHMI, Yale Univ. Sch. of Med.
Ruslan Medzhitov, Ph.D. (AAI ’00), HHMI, Yale University School of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2022 AAI Excellence in Mentoring Award, in recognition of his contributions to a future generation of scientists.
Dr. Medzhitov has enhanced our understanding of innate immunity. His research has spanned diverse topics within that subject, including identification of key innate immune signaling components, demonstration of the homeostatic interactions between Toll-like receptors and the intestinal microbiota, and description of a cell-intrinsic DNA-activated antiviral response and its role in certain autoimmune diseases. Another legacy is his dedicated and supportive mentorship to more than 75 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom are now established as independent investigators and notable contributors to the field of innate immunity. Former lab members have been successful in attaining faculty positions at universities and research institutes in the United States and abroad, including Weill Cornell Medicine; Boston Children’s Hospital; the University of Washington; Brown University; the University of Pennsylvania; the University of Arizona; the Mayo Clinic; the University of Oxford, United Kingdom; McGill University, Canada; the University of Marburg, Germany; Kobe University, Japan; the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea; and ShanghaiTech University, China.
Former trainees in the Medzhitov laboratory describe his broad interests, clarity of thought, and generosity with his talent and time as making a lasting impact. Gregory M. Barton, Ph.D. (AAI ’09), professor and division head, HHMI, University of California, Berkeley, believes that all trainees in the lab leave with the Medzhitov “imprint.” He says, “Somehow Ruslan manages to infuse his lab with his intellect and ambition while avoiding the tendency to micromanage projects or people. Looking back, I am amazed at his ability to provide advice, encouragement, and direction while allowing each of us to make our own decisions and mistakes.” Medzhitov’s support also extends to trainees after they leave his lab. His generosity in allowing trainees to take their projects with them greatly contributes to their success as principal investigators of their own labs, and he remains available for advice as they confront new career opportunities and challenges. Former and current lab members gather every few years for a retreat which, following the style of his lab, includes scientific talks and ample time for discussion.
Caroline L. Sokol, M.D., Ph.D. (AAI ’18), assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, reflects on how Medzhitov’s mentorship when she was an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Yale helped her in overcoming imposter syndrome. She states, “I was surrounded by equal numbers of men and women at all stages of training, trainees from all backgrounds and from countries across the globe, and by physicians and scientists, all of whom shared curiosity in common. Being able to see yourself in the others sitting at the table—as a woman, as an underrepresented minority, as a biochemist, as a physician—there was support and a sense of unity in that diversity. By establishing a supportive atmosphere, in which we all felt that we belonged, Ruslan gave us the safety that we all needed to take intellectual risks.”
Medzhitov received his Ph.D. from Moscow State University, Russia. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Charles Janeway (AAI ’74; d. 2004) at Yale University School of Medicine before becoming an assistant professor there in 1999. He is currently Sterling Professor in the Department of Immunobiology at Yale. He has been an HHMI investigator since 2000.
Medzhitov was the 2006 recipient of the AAI-BD Biosciences Investigator Award. His additional honors include the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences, the Else Kröner Fresenius Stiftung Prize, and the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
Medzhitov was selected an AAI Distinguished Lecturer in 2013 and has also served as a major symposium speaker at AAI meetings, an elected member of the Program Committee, and a faculty member for the AAI Advanced Course in Immunology.