Bankaitis named as Texas A&M University Distinguished Professor

Professor receives the highest faculty honor bestowed by Texas A&M for work on molecular and cellular medicine
March 29, 2018

Vytas A. Bankaitis, PhD, the E.L. Wehner-Welch Foundation Chair in Chemistry at Texas A&M College of Medicine, has been appointed a University Distinguished Professor. To gain the title of University Distinguished Professor, a faculty member must be considered preeminent in his/her field, make at least one seminal contribution and have a major impact in his/her work. Bankaitis was named the University Distinguished Professor by a six-person awards committee of previously named Distinguished Professors.

Since 2012, Bankaitis has been serving as a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine. His research is on lipid-mediated signal transduction, where organic compounds are transmitted within the body as a series of molecular events, resulting in a cellular response.

Bankaitis’ lab combines genetic, biochemical and biophysical approaches to study how a poorly understood class of non-enzymatic lipid-binding proteins promote the activities of critical lipid metabolizing enzymes in a broad array living organisms, such as mice, plants, fungi, and intracellular eukaryotic parasites. The lab is also currently exploiting these lipid-binding proteins as novel targets for new classes of anti-fungal drugs.

The Bankaitis lab, has recently embarked on a new direction to study unappreciated factors that contribute to autism risk, with research spearheaded by Zhigang Xie, PhD, assistant research scientist at the College of Medicine. The Bankaitis/Xie research suggests that if taken during pregnancy, the carnitine supplementation can protect the baby from a specific, potentially common, mechanism for autism risk.

Bankaitis received his Doctorate of Philosophy in microbiology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and was a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow at California Institute of Technology, prior to embarking on his independent scientific career.

— Tamim Choudhury