By Ray Fleming | January 9, 2013
Photo of Dr. John O'Shea in the lab.
Dr. John J. O'Shea

John J. O’Shea, M.D., Scientific Director of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an honor given to AAAS members by their peers. Dr. O’Shea was recognized for his "distinguished contributions to the field of immunology, particularly for the discovery of the Jak3 kinase and its importance in human disease." He also was the first scientist to clone the gene encoding the human form of the protein.

Following his discovery, Dr. O’Shea worked with colleagues at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to show that genetic defects in the Jak3 kinase could cause severe combined immunodeficiency. Drugs that blocked the activity of Jak kinases, he and his colleagues reasoned, might suppress the immune system and protect against inflammation. This groundbreaking work led to a collaboration with Pfizer, Inc., to develop such drugs. Pfizer successfully generated a Jak inhibitor (tofacitinib), which was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat people with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis who were not responsive to methotrexate ( This is the first new oral drug approved for this disease in a decade.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of St. Lawrence University and the University of Cincinnati Medical School, Dr. O’Shea began his National Institutes of Health career in 1981 at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He established his own laboratory at the National Cancer Institute in 1989, and joined the NIAMS in 1994. At the NIAMS, he was appointed Chief of the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch in 2002 and became Scientific Director of the Intramural Research Program in 2005. From 2010-2011, Dr. O’Shea also served as the Acting Director of the NIH Center for Regenerative Medicine. He is the recipient of many awards and has published more than 250 peer-reviewed articles.

“John has truly been a pioneer in the study of immunologic and rheumatic diseases”,says NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D. "He is richly deserving of this recognition." Dr. O’Shea will officially receive the honor on February 16, 2013, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

The mission of the NIAMS, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases; the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research; and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about the NIAMS, call the information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (free call) or visit the NIAMS website at

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