Science Life

UChicago Medicine and Biological Sciences faculty receive named professorships

A marker along the pedestrian walkway by the newly named Saieh Hall for Economics Thursday, June 5, 2014, on the University of Chicago campus. The adaptive reuse of 5757 S. University consists of the renovation and expansion of the former Chicago Theological Seminary building and will be the new home for the Department of Economics and the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics. (Robert Kozloff/The University of Chicago)

Twenty-four University of Chicago faculty members have received named professorships or were appointed distinguished service professors, including seven from UChicago Medicine and the Biological Sciences Division.


ZeresenayZerayAlemseged has been named the Donald N. Pritzker Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy and the College.

A noted paleoanthropologist, Alemseged studies the origin of early human ancestors and the environmental factors that influenced their evolution. He established and led the Dikika Research Project, in which Alemseged made several breakthrough findings, including the discovery of the almost-complete fossilized remains of “Selam,” a 3.3-million-year-old child of the species Australopithecus afarensis. Now known as “the world’s oldest child,” it is the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor discovered to date and represents a major advancement in the understanding of human and pre-human evolution.

Alemseged is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the co-founder and president of the East African Association of Paleontologists and Paleoanthropologists. He was a senior scientist at the Max Planck Institute and recently the Irvine Chair and senior curator of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences.


Joy Bergelson has been named the James D. Watson Professor in Ecology and Evolution and the College.

Bergelson’s work focuses on the plant Arabidopsis thaliana and the community of bacteria that inhabit it, with particular interest in understanding how the ecology of these interactions shapes evolutionary change. Her studies combine molecular evolutionary research with functional genomics under natural field conditions to test models of host-pathogen co-evolution. Along with colleagues she also has pioneered the development of Arabidopsis thaliana as a system for genome-wide mapping studies, which culminated in the Arabidopsis 1001 project. She received the 2017 BSD Distinguished Investigator award for this body of work.

The chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolution, Bergelson is a member of three UChicago committees, and has served on dozens of other departmental, divisional and university committees, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture panels, international advisory boards and journal editorial boards. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has served as chair of the AAAS Biology section.


John M. Cunningham has been named the George M. Eisenberg Professor in Pediatrics and the College.

Cunningham is an internationally known expert in the treatment and research of childhood cancers and blood diseases. He has particular expertise in treating leukemia, immunodeficiencies, sickle cell disease and thalassemia. He is a recognized leader in the field of pediatric stem cell transplantation and has developed novel uses for this life-saving treatment. Cunningham studies the transcriptional mechanisms operative in hematopoiesis and leukemia, and the development of clinical trials for the treatment of leukemia and genetic diseases.

Cunningham’s research has received support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the American Society of Hematology; and other prominent scientific organizations. He is a member of the scientific council of the American Cancer Society and a member of the editorial board of The Oncologist.


Thomas F. Gajewski has been named the first AbbVie Foundation Professor of Cancer Immunotherapy in Pathology.

Gajewski’s team members study ways to overcome a tumor’s ability to elude the immune system, with a focus on drugs that help the immune system, especially T cells, gain access to tumor sites. They have discovered genetic clues that correlate with response versus resistance, enabling them to identify new therapies to overcome resistance and expand efficacy. They also discovered that certain components of the gut microbiota—microbes that live in a patient’s digestive tract—could stimulate the immune system to attack tumor cells. They are now refining this approach and analyzing a large cohort of human samples.

Earlier this year, Gajewski received an outstanding investigator award from the National Institutes of Health for productivity in cancer research. Gajewski is an editor for Cancer Research and the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer and past president of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer.


Rex Haydon has been named the Simon and Kalt Families Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery.

An orthopedic surgeon and physician-scientist, Haydon specializes in the comprehensive treatment of tumors in bone or soft tissue. He works closely with patients hoping to avoid limb amputation as well as those who need reconstructive surgery on their upper and lower extremities. Haydon’s research focuses on advancing the treatment of musculoskeletal tumors. He’s the author of more than 120 articles and book chapters and has accepted career development awards from both the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Beyond his work in the University of Chicago’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, Haydon is also the associate director of the University of Chicago Medicine Molecular Oncology Laboratory.


Sonali M. Smith has been selected as the first Elwood V. Jensen Professor in Medicine.

The director of the lymphoma program, Smith is an expert on lymphoma treatment and has made outstanding contributions to the field through clinical care, education and clinical research. She studies new agents and combinations in the management of both treatment-naïve and relapsed/refractory lymphomas. She is currently studying the role of stem cell transplantation for patients with high-risk follicular lymphoma.

Smith is vice chair of the Southwest Oncology Group Lymphoma Committee, where she oversees clinical trial development and mentors faculty. She chairs the American Society of Oncology’s Women in Oncology Subcommittee and is the incoming chair of ASCO’s Continuous Professional Development Committee. She is co-editor of Hematology and co-chair of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research Lymphoma Working Group. Smith serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Oncology and Cancer. She is an elected fellow of Pritzker’s Academy of Distinguished Medical Educators and a senior faculty scholar in the Bucksbaum Institute. She has more than 140 publications and lectures extensively to peers and patients nationally and internationally.


Nir Uriel has been named the Louis Block Professor in Medicine.

Uriel, who is director of the Heart Failure, Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support program, is a leader in the field of heart failure, mechanical circulatory support and heart transplantation. He specializes in caring for patients who require mechanical circulatory support, including ventricular assist devices. Uriel’s research focuses on advanced heart failure physiology, heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support. Uriel specialized and reported physiological changes and developed treatment algorithms for patients supported with Mechanical Circulatory Support that are being used worldwide. These findings were published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology.

Uriel has a strong interest in high-risk transplant populations, including HIV-positive patients and patients who have received mediastinal radiation due to tumors or prior transplants. He has improved treatment protocols and patient care for these high-risk groups.