ASHG Honors David L. Nelson, PhD with the 2022 Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award

Published: Wednesday, July 20, 2022, 10:00 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time

Media Contact: Kara Flynn, 202.257.8424,

David L. Nelson, PhD, Recipient of the 2022 Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award
David L. Nelson, PhD, Recipient of the 2022 Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award

ROCKVILLE, MD – The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has named David L. Nelson, PhD, as the 2022 recipient of the Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award. Dr. Nelson is Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics, Director of the Graduate Programs in Cancer & Cell Biology and Integrative Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, and Co-Director of the BCM Michigan Emory Fragile X Research Center and the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center in Houston, Texas.

This award, which includes a plaque with a $10,000 prize, is named in honor of the late Victor A. McKusick, MD and is bestowed upon an individual who has exhibited exemplary leadership and vision in advancing the ASHG mission through the promotion and successful assimilation of genetics and genomics knowledge into the broader scientific community in areas ranging from science, medicine, public policy, and/or health.

“The Society recognizes the importance of Dr. David Nelson’s critical research on Fragile X syndrome and his help in identifying the mutation and the FMR1 gene,” said ASHG President Charles Rotimi, PhD. “His work has been essential in our understanding of this devastating condition and has helped to improve the lives of people around the world. In addition, we recognize Dr. Nelson’s leadership in nearly all facets of the American Society of Human Genetics as Editor of AJHG, Secretary, and as president of our Society. His advice and counsel have been invaluable.”

Dr. Nelson is one of the longest-serving members of the ASHG Board of Directors, having served two terms as Secretary, one as Editor of the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG), and one three-year term as President. As editor of AJHG, he enhanced the professional staff, laid the groundwork for ASHG’s open access journal, Human Genetics and Genomics Advances, and produced a Society history with past president profiles. As ASHG President, he initiated strategic planning to bring the Society to its current, forward-thinking strategic plan.

“Dr. Nelson has exhibited outstanding leadership of ASHG over his 30 years as a member,” said ASHG President Elect Brendan Lee, MD, PhD. “He has also been a scientific leader in the discovery and study of Fragile X.”

In his research, Dr. Nelson was a scientific leader and co-discoverer of the mutation that causes Fragile X syndrome as an expansion of a trinucleotide repeat in the FMR1 gene by applying the Polymerase chain reaction PCR, a technique that allows rapid gene mapping and isolation of specific chromosomal regions. His contributions led to the description of mutations in genes causing Lowe syndrome, Incontinentia Pigmenti and FRAXE syndrome. Additionally, He was an early contributor to methods used to map and sequence the human genome, beginning as a graduate student using selectable genes to enhance somatic cell genetic mapping. Dr. Nelson received his PhD in molecular genetics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he worked at MIT Center for Cancer Research in the group of David Housman. He carried out postdoctoral training at MIT and at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he studied neuroscience and defined genes encoding neurofilament proteins with Robert Lazzarini.

His research at BCM began in 1985 as a postdoctoral trainee in the laboratory of the late C. Thomas Caskey, then Director of the newly established BCM Institute of Molecular Genetics. Dr. Nelson’s efforts to initiate human genome studies at BCM and to define genes underlying X-linked disorders led to description of unstable repeat sequence mutations in Fragile X syndrome. This discovery offered an answer for the long-debated observation of “anticipation” in human genetic diseases. In his 30+ years on the genetics faculty at BCM, Dr. Nelson has mentored more than one dozen PhD students in his laboratory many of whom have also made fundamental contributions to human genetics.

ASHG will recognize this year’s award winners in the weeks prior to the Society’s annual meeting with a series of videos honoring their accomplishments. These videos will also be presented during the meeting, which will be held in Los Angeles on October 25-29.

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About the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG)

Founded in 1948, the American Society of Human Genetics is the primary professional membership organization for human genetics specialists worldwide. Its nearly 8,000 members include researchers, academicians, clinicians, laboratory practice professionals, genetic counselors, nurses, and others with an interest in human genetics. The Society serves scientists, health professionals, and the public by providing forums to: (1) share research results through the ASHG Annual Meeting and in The American Journal of Human Genetics and Human Genetics and Genomics Advances; (2) advance genetic research by advocating for research support; (3) educate current and future genetics professionals, health care providers, advocates, policymakers, educators, students, and the public about all aspects of human genetics; and (4) promote genetic services and support responsible social and scientific policies. For more information, visit:

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