Houston, TX – September 8, 2021 – The Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s largest sources of private funding for basic chemical research, has announced that Professor Chi-Huey Wong is the 2021 recipient of the prestigious Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. Dr. Wong is an influential leader who has made numerous discoveries in the fields of synthetic chemistry and chemical biology that have benefited humankind. With this award, he is being recognized for his development of new methods for the synthesis of complex carbohydrates and glycoproteins and the elucidation of carbohydrate-mediated biological recognition associated with disease progression.
“The mission of The Welch Foundation is to improve the lives of others through the advancement of chemical research, and Dr. Wong has been working towards that goal for decades,” said Carin Barth, Chair and Director, The Welch Foundation Board of Directors. “Not only has he made revolutionary advances in chemistry and biology, but his methodologies will facilitate new drug and vaccine developments for years to come.”
Dr. Wong is the Scripps Family Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute. Much of his work for the past three decades has focused on the importance of carbohydrates in the active immunization and treatment of cancer and infectious disease. His work since the 1980’s resulted in the development of scientific and technological tools including effective synthesis of complex polysaccharide antigens and glycoconjugates, suppression of autoimmune phenomena, homogenous antibodies, boosting the memory of the immune system and enhancing its cancer and virus killing abilities, and highly sensitive analytical methods. Recently, these tools and methods were instrumental in creating a vaccine that targets carbohydrates specific to the surface of cancer cells.
Carbohydrates are one of the four major classes of molecules that make up cells, including nucleic acids, proteins and lipids. A serious impediment to investigating their role in biology is making them. “Chi-Huey Wong is the most important figure in the development of carbohydrate synthesis using enzymatic catalysis.” said Peter Dervan, Chair, The Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board. “Chi-Huey transformed the field of carbohydrate chemistry with innovative synthetic methods such as automated programmable assembly of oligosaccharides using computer-based guide to select the order of building blocks. This eliminated the problem of protecting group manipulation in traditional solution phase synthesis and enabled biochemists to study the functional role of glycosylation of proteins and lipids in biology and medicine.”
Dr. Wong received B.S. and M.S. degrees from National Taiwan University and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University with George M. Whitesides for a year before becoming a faculty member at Texas A&M University where he was soon promoted to a full professor. He joined the Scripps Research Institute in 1989 as Professor and Ernest W. Hahn Chair in Chemistry until 2006 when he was appointed as President of Academia Sinica for a 10-year term. He then became President Emeritus in 2016 and Distinguished Research Fellow at the Genomics Research Center, Academia Sinica with a joint appointment as Professor of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute. Since 2019, he has served as the Scripps Family Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute in addition to being a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Genomics Research Center, Academia Sinica.
Dr. Wong is the recipient of numerous awards including the Searle Scholar Award in Biomedical Sciences (1985), the Presidential Young Investigator Award in Chemistry (1986), the American Chemical Society (ACS) Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award (1993), the Roy Whistler Award of the International Carbohydrate Organization (1994), the ACS Harrison Howe Award in Chemistry (1999), the ACS Claude S. Hudson Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry (1999), the International Enzyme Engineering Award (1999), the US Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (2000), the ACS Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (2005), the Humboldt Research Award for Senior Scientists (2006), the F. Albert Cotton Medal (2008), the Nikkei Asia Prize for Science, Technology and Innovation (2012), the ACS Arthur C. Cope Medal (2012), the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2014) and the Robert Robinson Award of the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK (2015).
He is a member of Academia Sinica, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the US National and World Academies of Sciences, the European Molecular Biology Organization and the US National Academy of Inventors. He served as an Editorial Advisory Board member for the Journal of American Chemical Society and Angewandte Chemie, Chairman of the Executive Board of Editors of the Tetrahedron Publications, head of the Frontier Research Program on Glycotechnology at RIKEN in Japan and a Board member of the US National Research Council of Chemical Sciences and Technology. In addition, he has received several honorary doctorate degrees, presented numerous plenary and named lectures and served as a scientific advisory board member to organizations in Germany, Japan, Taiwan and the US.
Since 1954, the Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed more than $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental research grants, endowed chairs and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas. The purpose of the Robert A. Welch Award is to foster and encourage basic chemical research and to recognize, in a substantial manner, the value of chemical research contributions for the benefit of humankind as set forth in the will of Robert Alonzo Welch. Upon accepting the award, Dr. Wong will receive $500,000 and a gold medallion. For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Welch Award recipients, please visit www.welch1.org.
Laura Jones/Dancie Perugini Ware Public Relations