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Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and McGill professor Nahum Sonenberg have more than prolific careers in common. The two, among nearly 200 other leading thinkers, were recently elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Sonenberg, the only Canadian honoree among the 20 newly named foreign honorary members, is a James McGill Professor in the Department of Biochemistry.
At McGill since 1979, Sonenberg researches how proteins are made in different cells. His work, which has led to a better understanding of basic biologic processes in normal and cancer cells, is now playing a major role in the creation of new cancer treatments. Other areas of research for Sonenberg include diabetes, obesity, hepatitis C, learning and memory. He likes to focus on basic research, which, as it sounds, uncovers the basics.
"If a car's engine is broken and you don't know the various parts, you can't fix it," says Sonenberg. "You don't set out from the beginning to cure the disease. We find out the basics, which always lead to a deeper understanding."
His election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is just the latest honour in a remarkable career. Sonenberg has been a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1992, the recipient of the Robert L. Noble Prize from the National Cancer Institute of Canada in 2002 and was awarded the 2005 Killam Prize for Health Sciences.
"It's prestigious to be in the same class as Bill Clinton and the Chief Justice [John Glover Roberts, Jr.]," he says. "To be elected into the Academy means that my work has been recognized as important and that's a good feeling. It gives me the impetus to work hard."
Founded in 1780, the Academy of Arts and Sciences has elected as fellows and foreign honorary members remarkable thinkers and influential leaders from each generation, including George Washington, Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. The new class will be inducted at a ceremony in early October at the Academy's headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.