Geisel Professor Elected to the National Academy of Sciences

Ta-Yuan (T.Y.) Chang, PhD (left) and Catherine Chung-Yao Chang, PhD alongside photos of previous Chang Lab researchers and their families. Photo by Kurt Wehde

Ta-Yuan (T.Y.) Chang, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), considered to be one of the country’s premier scientific societies.

Election to the National Academy of Sciences is among the highest honors a scientist can achieve and recognizes distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. With its 120 new members (including 59 women and 30 international members) announced on April 25 at its annual meeting, the NAS now has 2,461 active members.

“It’s a very high honor and I think it’s recognition for the work we’ve been able to do at a single institution,” says Chang, who joined the faculty at Dartmouth’s medical school in 1976. “Dartmouth may be small, but it’s a great place to do research, to teach, and to train young investigators.

“It’s also very important to note that good science requires teamwork and I have been very fortunate to have a great ‘co-captain’ over the last 40-plus years, in my wife Cathy,” says Chang, about Catherine Chung-Yao Chang, a principal research scientist who began her career at Dartmouth in 1980. “In addition to being a co-captain, Cathy also made the most important scientific discovery in the Chang Lab by identifying the gene that encodes ACAT1 (see below) and set the stage for all subsequent ACAT-related work over the past now nearly 30 years. To me, this honor belongs to both of us.”

“I’m very happy to be part of this special recognition,” says Cathy Chang. “I think this represents the whole body of work that all of our researchers, past and present, have contributed to. For me, my role here has been to put those precious discoveries, like many pearls, together to become a nice necklace.”

She adds: “I’ve really enjoyed working in the lab with our researchers and students and I appreciate the excellent environment that Dartmouth has provided, so we can concentrate on our research.”

“I am happy that the achievements of T.Y. and Cathy Chang have been recognized by this honor,” says Duane Compton, PhD, dean of the Geisel School of Medicine. “It is one of the highest peer recognitions a scientist can receive and is well deserved for T.Y. and Cathy. Their work has contributed insights into cholesterol metabolism that has had tremendous impact on our understanding for how to prevent cardiovascular disease.”

The Chang Laboratory has long been engaged in basic and translational research—using biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, nanotechnology, medicinal chemistry, and mouse models as investigative tools—to better understand cholesterol homeostasis, a fundamental process that plays an important role in health and in diseases.

In 1993, Chang and his team discovered what’s called ACAT1, a gene-encoding enzyme that controls how cholesterol is stored in cells and whose molecular identity had eluded researchers for more than 35 years.

The team has continued to work on ACAT-related research. They have further characterized its biochemical properties and are involved in demonstrating its potential as a novel target to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and atherosclerosis. Their identification of the ACAT1 gene has also paved the way for a number of other important molecular studies of enzymes involved in lipid metabolism.

Chang has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1977 and has received the NIH Research Career Development Award (1982-87) and NIH MERIT Award (1994-2004). He was elected an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow in 2011.

Chang has been a member of a number of prominent professional societies and has served on the editorial boards of several leading journals. He has authored well over 100 publications and holds 10 scientific patents. Chang served as chair of the Department of Biochemistry from 2000 to 2008.

Chang received his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed his postdoctoral training at Washington University Medical School in Missouri and Merck, Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories in New Jersey.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine—provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Founded in 1797, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth strives to improve the lives of the communities it serves through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The Geisel School of Medicine is renowned for its leadership in medical education, healthcare policy and delivery science, biomedical research, global health, and in creating innovations that improve lives worldwide. As one of America’s leading medical schools, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of diverse leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in healthcare.