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Nancy Carrasco’s pioneering public health work recognized with National Academy of Medicine election

by Nov. 4, 2020, 9:00 AM

On Oct. 19, Nancy Carrasco, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and the Joe C. Davis Chair of Biomedical Science, was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.   

The election process recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. According to a release, current members elected Carrasco “for making exceptional contributions to elucidating mechanisms by which ions and other solutes are transported across biological membranes. Her work has broad impact and significance across biomedical fields ranging from biophysics and molecular physiology to cancer, metabolism, molecular endocrinology, and public health.” 

“We are thrilled that Dr. Carrasco has been recognized by the National Academy of Medicine for the work that she continues to devote her extraordinary career to,” said Lawrence Marnett, dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Sciences and Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research. “Her research is focused on understanding the physiology of thyroid hormone biosynthesis and how it is affected by genetic mutations and environmental pollutants. She is addressing pressing public health concerns, and her work has a clear, tangible impact on human health.”  

“Dr. Carrasco’s election to the National Academy of Medicine underscores her commitment to bringing scientific clarity to a public health crisis. Her focus on inclusive and collaborative research has resulted in transformative research that is meaningfully improving human health, while also exemplifying the diverse perspectives and trans-institutional methods that set Vanderbilt apart,” noted Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente.  

Carrasco has been elected to the NAM along with two other Vanderbilt researchersVelma McBride Murry, university professor of health policy and human and organizational development in Peabody College and the School of Medicine and the Lois Autrey Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Peabody College, and Consuelo Wilkins, professor of medicine in the School of Medicine and vice president for health equity at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  

Carrasco isolated the coding DNA for the sodium/iodide symporter NIS, the iodide transporter protein that actively pulls iodide from the bloodstream into the thyroid gland. Iodide is an essential constituent of the thyroid hormones, which are crucial for the development of the nervous system beginning in uterine life, and regulate metabolism in virtually all tissues. The critical importance of the thyroid hormones makes understanding the protein that ushers their key constituent into the thyroid gland essential to understanding human health overall.   

“I am deeply honored to have been elected to the National Academy of Medicine,” Carrasco said. “I have always felt very strongly that the links between understanding physiology and pathophysiology at the molecular level and both medical practice and public health should be viewed as a cornerstone of our collective efforts to improve the health of our communities, and that has been a guiding principle in my work. I am extremely grateful to the members of the Academy for electing me and, in so doing, affirming the value of basic science as a key contributor to progress in medicine.”  

Carrasco continues to investigate the functions of NIS and its interaction with the environmental pollutant perchlorate. She and her colleagues recently reported that perchlorate exposure fundamentally alters the mechanism by which NIS transports iodide into the thyroid, and her group had previously shown that NIS is functionally expressed in lactating breast tissue, making it clear that this pollutant is more dangerous than previously thought. These discoveries demonstrate that perchlorate exposure can markedly decrease thyroid hormone production in vulnerable populations, including pregnant and nursing mothers and their fetuses and newborns. Her research also has direct applications to the development of breast cancer therapeutics.    

Carrasco has received numerous national and international awards, including the Pew Award in the Biomedical Sciences, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Award, the Maria Sibylla Merian Award (Germany), the Merck Prize from the European Thyroid Association (Poland), the Noun Shavit Award in Life Sciences (Israel), and Light of Life Award. She has served as president of the Society of Latin American Biophysicists and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2015.  

Carrasco received her M.D. and master’s degree in biochemistry from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in her native Mexico City and completed her postdoctoral training at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology. She joined the faculty at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1987 and at the Yale School of Medicine in 2011. She joined Vanderbilt in 2019.   

“This distinguished and diverse class of new members is a truly exceptional group of scholars and leaders whose expertise in science, medicine, health, and policy will be integral to helping the NAM address today’s most pressing health challenges and inform the future of health and health care for the benefit of everyone around the globe,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau. “It is my privilege to welcome these esteemed individuals to the National Academy of Medicine.” 

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