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M. Madan Babu joins St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as endowed chair in biological data science

Position will enhance data-driven biomedical research at St. Jude

Memphis, Tennessee, June 30, 2020

Researcher in suit smiling at camera.

M. Madan Babu, Ph.D., will join the faculty of St. Jude in the Structural Biology Department as endowed chair in Biological Data Science and director of the Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Discovery.

M. Madan Babu, Ph.D., will join the faculty of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the Structural Biology Department on July 1 as the endowed chair in Biological Data Science and director of the Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Discovery.

Babu is a pioneer in data science–based approaches to revealing fundamental principles in biological systems. He has developed state-of-the-art computational and machine learning-based methods to interrogate large-scale biological data from diverse organisms. His recent work has helped show how genetic differences in individuals can result in adverse responses to prescribed drugs. Babu was awarded the 2019 EMBO Gold Medal, a top scientific recognition for life scientists under 40 in Europe, for his contributions to the field of computational biology.

The successful recruitment of researchers like Dr. Babu continues to fulfill the goal of creating the world’s most comprehensive research center in the Structural Biology Department,” said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO. “The commitment we’ve made to acquire the best technology and attract top talent to use those resources will help accelerate our understanding of what drives pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases of childhood,” Downing said. “Through these discoveries, we can advance cures for pediatric cancer and other deadly diseases.”

Before joining St. Jude, Babu was a programme leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. His research publications are highly cited and span diverse areas in life sciences relevant to human diseases and medicine. He was awarded the 2018 Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists for his work elucidating the functions of key proteins in the human genome. Babu earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University and his undergraduate degree from the Centre for Biotechnology at Anna University in India.

In his role at St. Jude, Babu will focus on G protein coupled receptors, which are targets of 30% of FDA-approved drugs, and on understanding the roles of unstructured protein regions in biology and various diseases. He will generate, integrate and analyze data from different research areas to make biological discoveries and to further the work being done at St. Jude.

“Biological information describing human diseases is often complex and diverse,” Babu said. “St. Jude represents a unique ecosystem of top doctors, scientists and medical researchers who are generating an abundance of valuable research data. When you mine, integrate and analyze such biological data in innovative ways, it can result in new insights, knowledge and actionable biomedical discoveries. We are very excited to drive such an approach, tap into the outstanding resources and synergize with the various research groups at St. Jude to understand the molecular origins of human diseases and identify new ways to treat them.”

Charalampos Kalodimos, Ph.D., St. Jude Structural Biology Department chair, who recruited Babu to the institution, has been enlisting top scientists and leading the acquisition of technological upgrades to enhance the hospital’s structural biology research. New technology includes acquisition of the first Ascend 1.1 GHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, the largest of its kind, in fall 2019.

“I am thrilled to have Dr. Babu in our department,” Kalodimos said. “He is one of the first scientists to establish a data science–based approach to extract new knowledge by exploiting the multiple facets of the vast amount of available biological data—from atomic-level information describing individual amino acids to complex biological networks and population-scale genomic datasets. He is a world leader in the area of structural, computational and systems biology, and his recruitment will enable us to establish a spectacular research program in this area.”

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 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.