By Zach Veilleux
Howard Hang, a chemist who works to develop new tools for the study of host-pathogen interactions, has been promoted to associate professor. The promotion was approved by the university’s Board of Trustees at its recent meeting and is effective as of January 1. Dr. Hang is Richard E. Salomon Family Associate Professor and head of the Laboratory of Chemical Biology and Microbial Pathogenesis.
Dr. Hang joined the university in 2007 with the goal of understanding how immune cells deal with invading microbes and how successful pathogens subvert these host defense mechanisms. Since microbial pathogens interact with host membranes during infection, he focused on posttranslational modifications that regulate the activity of membrane proteins in immune cells. By developing innovative chemical biology methods, his laboratory has discovered that many proteins involved in host immunity to viruses and bacteria are regulated by fatty acid modifications.
“We are very excited about these discoveries, which suggest that the strength and specificity of immune responses may be directly linked to fatty acid metabolism and protein modification,” says Dr. Hang. He has since been working on how the attachment of fatty acids to proteins is regulated in immune cells and determining whether microbial pathogens interfere with this important lipid modification during infection to cause disease.
Looking ahead, Dr. Hang hopes to identify specific host and pathogen factors that regulate fatty acid modifications and develop new strategies to control immune responses to harmful microbes.
“Howard’s work has shed new light on some of what occurs behind the scenes when the immune system responds to pathogens such as influenza viruses and salmonella,” says Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the university’s president. “His discoveries have opened up a new line of inquiry that may turn out to have important implications in immunology and microbiology. I look forward to seeing where this research leads as Howard embarks on the next chapter of his career.”
Dr. Hang, trained as a chemist, received his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, with Carolyn Bertozzi. As a postdoc, he worked on innate and adaptive immunity under Hidde Ploegh at the Harvard Medical School and at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
Dr. Hang is a recipient of the Irma T. Hirschl/Monique Weill-Caulier Trust Research Award (2007) and the Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar Award in Aging (2008). He was a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow while at Harvard.