Zhijian "James" Chen
  • 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences


Chinese-American biochemist and Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He received the 2019 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for "elucidating how DNA triggers immune and autoimmune responses from the interior of a cell through the discovery of the DNA-sensing enzyme cGAS".

Education and Work Experience

1986-1991, Ph.D. in Biochemistry, the State University of New York at Buffalo
2005-Present, Professor of Molecular Biology, UT Southwestern Medical Centre at Dallas
2005-Present, Investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute
2010-Present, George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, UT Southwestern Medical Center

Honors and Awards

2005, Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research
2007, The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Science
2014, Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences
2019, Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Major Academic Achievements

Zhijian “James” Chen’s research into complex cellular biochemistry has led to the discovery of pathways and proteins that trigger immune and stress responses. Chen has identified proteins, such as the mitochondrial protein MAVS, that are crucial to the body’s defence against RNA viruses such as influenza and Ebola. Now, Chen and his team are dissecting a signalling pathway involving a novel DNA sensor - cyclic GMP- AMP (cGAMP) synthase, or cGAS - which activates an interferon response that may play a role in immune defence against pathogens and malignant cells, as well as in autoimmune diseases such as lupus. Treatment of these autoimmune diseases could involve chemical inhibition of cGAS, whereas cGAMP and its derivatives may be used as adjuvants for vaccines and cancer immunotherapies.