Pioneering researcher J. Paul Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., has been named scientific director and executive vice president of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Taylor steps into the role during a pivotal time of growth for the hospital. Under its $11.5 billion, six-year strategic plan, the institution’s scientific enterprise will significantly expand.
Taylor joined St. Jude in 2008 as an associate member of the Department of Developmental Neurobiology. There, he established a high-impact research program to identify the fundamental basis of neurological diseases by combining human genetics with cell biological and molecular approaches to identify the fundamental basis of neurological diseases. He now serves as chair of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology and directs the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative, a new endeavor that leverages the hospital’s strengths in research and experimental therapeutics to develop cures for childhood neurological diseases.
“I’m both humbled and thrilled by this opportunity to work with other St. Jude leaders in pursuing the St. Jude mission as we seek to increase the footprint of the scientific enterprise, open new areas of research, foster more collaboration across scientific disciplines, and fuel innovation via significant financial investments in programs that encourage blue-sky thinking,” Taylor said. “In this way, we realize hospital founder Danny Thomas’ dream that no child should die at the dawn of life.”
Taylor is best known for groundbreaking work in biomolecular condensation. In this fundamental strategy, cells organize their contents in time and space through a process called liquid-liquid phase separation. In 2013, scientists in Taylor’s lab discovered that genetic mutations impacting biological phase transitions are a cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS. This discovery led to a better understanding of how these mutations can also contribute to cancer and other catastrophic illnesses.
In 2014, Taylor was a founding member and chair of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, which has become a model of excellence in biomedical research. Taylor’s research approach also resulted in development of the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative in 2020. The initiative seeks to define molecular mechanisms underlying certain childhood neurological diseases, with the goal of helping scientists find information that can led to the development of cures for those diseases.
Taylor was named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator in 2015—one of only 26 nationwide chosen for the recognition that year. In 2020, he was awarded the Potamkin Prize and the Norman Saunders International Research Prize.
“Dr. Taylor is regarded as one of the world’s most highly cited scientists, and researchers globally look to his work to further their own understanding,” said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO. “During his time at St. Jude, he’s demonstrated an excellent record of leadership as the founding chair of the Cell and Molecular Biology department and as the director of the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative. As we continue to search for new ways to treat childhood catastrophic diseases, Dr. Taylor’s expertise and guidance will be integral to advancing cures for patients at St. Jude and around the world.”
Taylor will replace Jim Morgan, Ph.D., who served as scientific director and executive vice president from 2015–22. Morgan is retiring from his position as scientific director.
As scientific director, Taylor will continue to lead the Pediatric Translational Neuroscience Initiative. The search for a new chair of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology will begin in mid-2022.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening disorders. 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 60 years ago. St. Jude shares the breakthroughs it makes to help doctors and researchers at local hospitals and cancer centers around the world improve the quality of treatment and care for even more children. To learn more, visit stjude.org, read St. Jude Progress blog, and follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.