Yang Chai, associate dean of research at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), a membership that is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine. Chai is also a professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and the George and MaryLou Boone Professor of Craniofacial Molecular Biology.
“Your election reflects the high esteem in which your peers and colleagues regard you,” NAM President Victor J. Dzau said in a notification letter. “You are now part of a group of truly distinguished individuals who have made important contributions to health, science and medicine.”
The distinction is meant to honor Chai’s “pioneering studies on the molecular regulation of cell types during craniofacial development, leading to novel bioengineered treatment strategies and new hope to patients suffering from debilitating and emotionally devastating malformations of the head and face,” according to the NAM announcement.
NAM is a nonprofit institution that advises national and international governments on issues related to health, medicine, health policy and biomedical sciences.
As a member, Chai will help the institution work toward its mission of improving health by advancing science, accelerating health equity and providing evidence-based and trusted advice across the globe.
This year, NAM elected 85 new members — 75 in the United States and 10 internationally. Of those elected this year, Chai is the only dental professional.
“This is an incredible recognition by my peers and for the work we do at USC,” Chai said. “But more importantly, this is an opportunity for me to contribute to the advancement of biomedical science at the national and international level.”
To be eligible, a candidate must have made distinguished contributions to health and medicine; demonstrated continued involvement with issues of health care, disease prevention, education and research; and have exhibited a willingness and ability to help NAM with its mission. Candidates must be nominated by two current NAM members.
“We are so proud of Yang for this distinction,” Ostrow Dean Avishai Sadan said. “The contributions he has made to the research community here at Ostrow, across the university and for the dental profession are legion. I can’t think of a better way to honor him for a lifetime of scientific achievement.”
Lifetime of scientific achievement
Chai earned his doctor of medicine degree in dentistry from Peking University before relocating to the United States. He completed his doctoral degree in craniofacial biology and his doctor of dental surgery degree at USC. In 1987, he joined the USC dental faculty as an instructor.
Chai is internationally renowned for his scientific investigation into the genetics, cellular signaling and development of craniofacial structures, including understanding the causes of and finding potential preventive measures for craniofacial deformities including cleft lip, cleft palate and craniosynostosis.
In 2012, the Ostrow professor was elected Chair of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research Board of Scientific Counselors. Other accomplishments include earning the International Association for Dental Research Distinguished Scientist Award in 2011, the National Institutes of Health MERIT Award in 2010 and having been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011.
Chai is the director of the USC Center for Craniofacial and Molecular Biology, a research laboratory that has made significant discoveries in areas including the molecular genetics of tooth development, the molecular basis for cleft lip and palate and stem cell-mediated craniofacial tissue regeneration. He is also holder of the George and Mary Lou Boone Chair in Craniofacial Biology.
USC currently has nine faculty members who have been elected NAM members. The last USC dental faculty member to be elected was Harold Slavkin ’61, DDS ’65 in 1995.