Jae Jung, Fletcher Jones Foundation Chair and Hastings Foundation Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has been awarded South Korea’s 2012 Ho-Am Prize in Medicine, an honor that often is referred to as the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Jung, who also is director of the USC Institute of Emerging Pathogens and Immune Diseases, was recognized as a leading authority in molecular biology whose discoveries have laid the groundwork for eventual cures for virus-induced cancers.
He is one of five prize recipients from around the globe who will be honored at a June 1 ceremony in Seoul, where he will deliver a commemorative lecture. The award consists of a 6-ounce gold medal, a laureate diploma and 300 million Korean won (approximately $265,000).
“As a recipient of the prestigious Ho-Am Prize in Medicine, one of Korea’s highest honors, professor Jung sets the bar for excellence in cutting-edge research not just at USC, but across our global community of medical scientists,” said USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs Elizabeth Garrett. “His innovative work in molecular biology provides a foundation for curing certain cancers, inspiring the promise of greater health and well-being for countless people around the world.”
Jung, recruited to lead the USC Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology from Harvard Medical School in 2007, is regarded as a preeminent expert in the molecular biology of gamma-herpes viruses and their gene products as they relate to cell biology, biochemistry and immunology.
He began looking at the virus strain in 1990, when it was known to cause cancer in animals. By 1994, researchers had discovered that a human form of the virus caused Kaposi’s sarcoma, the most common cancer among AIDS patients. Already well versed on the animal form of the virus, Jung began studying the human version.
“This research has the potential to help so many people,” Jung said. “Our team at USC has an expertise in infectious disease – we study how and why people get sick so that we can find a way to cure them. I was at Harvard Medical School for 19 years, but I came to the Keck School of Medicine of USC because I wanted to contribute to public health in a more direct way – I think that is what the Ho-Am Prize Committee is recognizing with this prize. And I am truly humbled.”
Under Jung’s leadership, the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology has more than doubled in size to 22 faculty members, while its annual grant portfolio has grown eight-fold.
In addition, Jung sits on grant review panels for the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America. With more than 145 published scientific papers, he also serves as an editor and reviewer for respected journals, such as Nature, Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Virology.
“Jae Jung is an exceptional scholar, leader and teacher whose contributions to the health of society are immeasurable,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School. “His buoyant personality and passion for science are plain to see, and we are honored to celebrate with him this recognition that he richly deserves.”
A native of Seoul, Jung earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food science from Seoul National University. He moved to the United States in 1985 and earned his Ph.D. in microbiology four years later from the University of California, Davis. He completed postdoctoral training at Harvard’s New England Regional Primate Research Center. He eventually served as chair of the division of tumor virology at the research center and became the first Korean-born scientist to be promoted to a tenured professorship at Harvard.
The Ho-Am Prize was established in 1990 by Samsung, posthumously named after the South Korean conglomerate’s founder, “Ho-Am” Byung-chull Lee. It is awarded annually to Koreans in Korea and abroad who make major contributions to science, the arts, social development and human welfare through remarkable achievements. For more information, visit hoamprize.samsungfoundation.org/eng