The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) today announced Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, is the recipient of the 2022 David and Beatrix Hamburg Award for Advances in Biomedical Research and Clinical Medicine for discoveries that have transformed understanding of how human physiology is shaped by microbial communities. The inaugural award, which recognizes Gordon’s achievements with a medal and $50,000, will be presented at the National Academy of Medicine’s annual meeting on Oct. 16. Gordon is the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Gordon’s research has altered germ theory and knowledge of the microbial contributions to noncommunicable diseases, as well as ushered in a new era of microbiome-based therapeutics and preventive medicine. He has pioneered interdisciplinary approaches for characterizing mechanisms that underlie the postnatal assembly, expressed beneficial functions, and dynamic adaptations of human gut microbial communities. His translational studies have produced a widely adopted paradigm for establishing causal relationships between microbiome configurations and health status, identifying therapeutic targets, and developing ways to alter microbial community properties. Based on his research, Gordon authored a white paper in 2005 proposing a human microbiome initiative that laid the foundation for the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project.
Much of Gordon’s work has focused on addressing the global health challenge of childhood undernutrition by studying the interactions between diets, the gut microbiome, and ways to achieve healthy development of the gut microbial community during the first several years of life. To develop culturally acceptable, affordable, and scalable treatments for childhood undernutrition, he and members of his group, have conducted studies in low- and middle-income countries representing diverse geographic locations and cultural traditions. These findings, together with his studies of the small intestinal microbiome in Bangladeshi children with stunted growth and infants with severe acute malnutrition, support a causal link between healthy microbiome development and healthy growth. They serve as a rationale for Gordon’s current efforts, done in partnership with his collaborators at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, to assess the generalizability and durability of the effects of microbiome-directed complementary foods, and to develop maternal microbiome-directed interventions to improve nutritional status and birth outcomes and stop the cycle of intergenerational malnutrition.
With more than 140 Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows who have worked in his lab, Gordon has demonstrated a career-long commitment to training the next generation of scientists and researchers. These students and fellows have also contributed to shaping the field of human microbiome research, including championing innovative and collaborative interdisciplinary science and applying knowledge of the microbiome to historically marginalized populations.
“A true pioneer in microbiome research, Dr. Gordon has dedicated decades to not only making remarkable discoveries on gastrointestinal development and the human gut microbiome, but also translating those breakthroughs into actionable interventions to reduce global health inequities,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau. “His work at the interface between the microbiome and food and nutrition science provides new approaches for combating the global challenge of childhood malnutrition at this time of marked population expansion and increasing economic disparities. Dr. Gordon’s crucial contributions to the field of microbiome research and associated work to improve the human condition make him most worthy of our inaugural Hamburg Award.”
Gordon was elected to NAM in 2008, and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. His seminal contributions to human microbiome research have been recognized with major awards such as the 2017 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University and the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 2018.
Gordon is the first recipient of the Hamburg Award. Created in 2021, this award is named for David Hamburg, who was president of the Institute of Medicine from 1975-1980, and Beatrix Hamburg, an NAM member and expert in child and adolescent behavioral health. The award is funded by an endowment established in 2004 in honor of the Hamburgs’ life and legacy.
The award honors an exceptional biomedical research discovery, translation, or public health intervention by one or more scientists that has fundamentally enriched the understanding of biology and disease, leading to a significant improvement in human health and social well-being and reduction in global health inequities. Nominees are eligible for consideration without regard to education or profession, and award recipients are selected by a committee of experts convened by the National Academy of Medicine. This year’s selection committee was chaired by Huda Y. Zoghbi, professor, department of molecular and human genetics, Baylor College of Medicine; and director, Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, Texas Children’s Hospital.