Dr. Becky Kelly Retires After 30 Years Devoted to Eosinophil Research

Dr. Becky Kelly

The mysteries of the eosinophil, a type of blood cell that is abundant in people living with asthma as well as certain other diseases and conditions, have long called to Elizabeth (Becky) Kelly, PhD, distinguished scientist, Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. Her devotion to unraveling the intricacies of eosinophil biology began during her doctoral training at Vanderbilt University. She recalled, “I realized that my scientific passion was for the eosinophil and the specific type of immune response associated with this cell. This passion led me to a career in asthma research.” 

For 24 years, that career progressed in the laboratory of Nizar Jarjour, MD, professor and head, Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and holder of the Jeffrey Grossman Chair in Medical Leadership. Dr. Kelly’s many accomplishments as an internationally recognized leader in the area of airway biology of bronchial asthma were celebrated at her retirement party on March 9, 2018 (click here for a photo album). 

Dr. Becky Kelly and Dr. Nizar Jarjour“Dr. Kelly is a highly committed and very capable partner in the lab who is a team player and exceptional scientist in her own right,” said Dr. Jarjour. Her accomplishments include authoring over 60 research articles and writing 14 funded grants including program project grants (P10) as well as R01 and U10 grants and as a Principal Investigator for funding from the American Lung Association. These awards enabled key research breakthroughs in severe asthma. Dr. Kelly has also nurtured the next generation, mentoring 26 early-career scientists and physician-scientists including undergraduates, graduate students, residents and fellows. “It is thrilling to watch a young student or junior professional get excited about their work and develop a passion for scientific research,” she said.

One example of Dr. Kelly’s impact on the field was her guidance of experiments leading to the discovery that eosinophils in the lung lack a receptor for the interleukin IL-5, a cell signaling cytokine, because an enzyme in the lung clips off the IL-5 receptor from the cell surface. This explained why a drug that targets IL-5 activity is effective against eosinophils in the blood, but largely ineffective against eosinophils in the lung. 

At her retirement party, the occasion was marked with a cake decorated with eosinophils as members and collaborators of the Jarjour laboratory bid Dr. Kelly a fond farewell. “Becky is one of those rare people that regardless of what project she is involved with, it always comes back better for having her involved,” said Dr. Jarjour. The team joined together in wishing her the best for a happy retirement.

Photo caption (top): During her retirement party, Dr. Becky Kelly reflected on her years in the laboratory of Dr. Nizar Jarjour, with whom she has worked since 1994. Photo credit: Clint Thayer/Department of Medicine