James E. Darnell Jr., MD

James E. Darnell Jr., MD
Vincent Astor Professor Emeritus; Head, Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology, The Rockefeller University, New York, New York

James E. Darnell Jr., MD | Class of 2014

Dr. Darnell discovered the first processing RNAs (rRNA and tRNA) and co-discovered polyA tails in virtually all mRNAs. His studies on long nuclear RNA molecules, especially those copied from adenovirus DNA, laid the groundwork for the discovery of splicing. To begin studies on how cytokines changed cell behavior by activating specific genes, he turned to interferons, which stimulate a class of proteins called transcription factors. During these studies he discovered and cloned signal transducers and activators of transcription (STATs), which have proved important in a variety of developmental and homeostatic events in all multicellular animals.

Amidst his early investigations of cytokine signaling via the JAK/STAT pathway, Dr. Darnell discovered that persistent activation of one of the proteins in that pathway, Stat3, is linked to the development of tumors through its ability to block apoptosis. Stat3 has since been shown to be activated in many cancers, including lymphomas, leukemias, breast cancer, and many head and neck cancers. Current research is now focused on inhibiting Stat3 activity with cell-permeable modified peptides.

His interest in molecular biology arose naturally from his interest in virology, which he initially pursued in Harry Eagle’s lab at NIH in the 1950s. During his 60 years of research since then, Dr. Darnell has witnessed many remarkable scientific advances and wisely cautions today’s graduate students to not be so overwhelmed by the avalanche of new information and data available that they forget to listen to “the aging” for guidance on how to learn, which can be every bit as important as what to learn.

Career Highlights

​2013  Elected Member, American Philosophical Society
2012  Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research
2004  Elected Foreign Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Stockholm
2003  AACR-Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lectureship
2003  National Medal of Science, National Science Foundation
2002  Albert Lasker Special Achievement Award
1999  William B. Coley Award for Distinguished Research in Basic and Tumor Immunology, Cancer Research Institute
1998  E.B. Wilson Medal, American Society for Cell Biology
1996  Elected Foreign Member, The Royal Society, London
1994  Paul Janssen Prize in Biotechnology and Medicine
1991  Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1986  Canada Gairdner International Award
1973  Elected Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1973  Elected Member, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC
1955  MD, Washington University School of Medicine