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James R. Downing, M.D., of St. Jude, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital president and CEO joins the 236th class of members, which includes national and international scholars, artists, philanthropists and leaders

Memphis, Tennessee, April 20, 2016

James R. Downing, MD

James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital president and chief executive officer, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of 213 new members, which include some of the world's most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers and artists, as well as civic, business and philanthropic leaders.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing—and opportunities available to—the nation and the world. Members of the 2016 class include winners of the Pulitzer Prize and the Wolf Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; the Fields Medal; and the Grammy Award and National Book Award.

“Dr. Downing is a visionary scientific and medical leader whose work is helping the research community to understand the genetic basis of cancer and use that information to improve treatment and increase survival of young cancer patients,” said Marlo Thomas, St. Jude national outreach director and daughter of hospital founder, Danny Thomas. “On behalf of everyone at St. Jude, we are so pleased the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has recognized Dr. Downing’s contributions and leadership in speeding progress against childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases.”

A world leader in pediatric cancer research, Downing has dedicated more than two decades to uncovering the genetic basis of childhood cancer. He was instrumental in launching the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP), which has sequenced the normal and cancer genomes of more than 800 young cancer patients with some of the least understood and most aggressive tumors. The project made TIME magazine’s 2012 list of top 10 medical breakthroughs. In 2013, Downing was a finalist on TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. The PCGP has produced groundbreaking discoveries in brain tumors, childhood leukemia, a cancer of the peripheral nervous system, an eye tumor and the degenerative disorder commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The project has also produced new computational tools that benefit the broader field of genomic medicine.

Most recently, Downing was appointed to a Blue Ribbon Panel to advise Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative through the National Cancer Institute.

As St. Jude president and CEO, Downing is the architect of a six-year strategic plan to expand St. Jude clinical care and research programs throughout the country and around the world.

Prior to taking the helm of St. Jude, Downing served as the institution’s scientific and deputy director and as an executive vice president in the organization. He became the hospital’s sixth chief executive officer in 2014.

Downing becomes the fourth St. Jude faculty member honored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Martine Roussel, Ph.D., Brenda Schulman, Ph.D., and Charles Sherr, M.D., Ph.D., were named fellows in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Throughout its history, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected leaders from each generation, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Jonas Salk, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Nelson Mandela. Current members represent today’s innovative thinkers in every field and profession, including more than 250 Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners. The complete list of the 2016 class of new members is available at

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude shares the discoveries it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.