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Hultgren elected to National Academy of Medicine

Recognized for distinguished contributions to medicine and health

by Tamara BhandariOctober 16, 2017

Washington University

Microbiologist Scott J. Hultgren, PhD, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the organization is one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine in the United States.

Hultgren is the Helen L. Stoever Professor of Molecular Microbiology and director of the Center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

He is among 70 regular members and 10 international members whose election to the National Academy of Medicine was announced Monday, Oct. 16. Current members of the organization elect new members based on their contributions advancing public health, health care and medical science. All members volunteer time to serve on committees examining a broad range of health-policy issues.

Hultgren has made groundbreaking contributions to understanding urinary tract infections (UTIs), which affect about half of all women at some point in their lives. He studies how bacteria establish themselves in the urinary tract and evade the body’s innate defenses. His work is changing the way UTIs are evaluated and is reshaping technologies involved in the design of vaccines and therapeutics to treat and prevent this common infection without the use of antibiotics.

Hultgren’s work has elucidated how bacteria zip onto the bladder walls like molecular Velcro to establish an infection. Hultgren co-founded Fimbrion together with James W. Janetka, PhD, an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, to translate findings into new medicines to benefit human health and reduce the dependency on antibiotics to treat UTI. The two have made notable advances toward designing small molecules that prevent bacteria from latching onto the bladder wall. Molecules that prevent bacteria from sticking to walls of the bladder would allow them to be flushed away before they cause infection, thus eliminating the need for antibiotics.

As director of the Center for Women’s Infectious Disease Research since 2007, Hultgren has aimed to improve the lives of women and their families by promoting research into the key processes underlying infectious diseases such as UTIs, infections during pregnancy or childbirth, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Hultgren was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010. In 1998, he received the Eli Lilly award, the preeminent award granted in microbiology to those younger than 40. He also has been recognized as a Nobel Fellow, was awarded a merit grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Umeå in Sweden.

Hultgren earned his doctoral degree from Northwestern University in 1987 before moving to Sweden to do postdoctoral research under Staffan Normark, PhD, at the University of Umeå. Normark joined Washington University as head of the molecular microbiology department in 1989 and recruited Hultgren to join the faculty later that same year.

Washington University School of Medicine‘s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked seventh in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Tamara covers pathology & immunology, medical microbiology, infectious diseases, cell biology, neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery and radiology. She holds a double bachelor's degree in molecular biophysics & biochemistry and in sociology from Yale University, a master's in public health from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in biomedical science from the University of California, San Diego. Tamara worked in research labs for about a decade before switching to science writing. She joined WashU Medicine Marketing & Communications in 2016. She has received two Robert G. Fenley writing awards from the American Association of Medical Colleges. In 2020, she won a bronze for "Mind’s quality control center found in long-ignored brain area" and in 2022 a silver for "Mice with hallucination-like behaviors reveal insight into psychotic illness."