James J. Champoux
With great sadness, I write to inform you of the sudden passing of Dr. James Champoux, professor and former chair of the UW School of Medicine Department of Microbiology. He died on Monday, a week after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, at the age of 76.
Dr. Champoux was appointed department chair in October 2007, after serving twice before as interim chair, and he continued in that role until earlier this year. He was dedicated to his colleagues, truly generous in his service to the School of Medicine, and justifiably proud to lead one of the premier biological science departments in the country.
The Department of Microbiology has a national reputation for high-quality teaching and an international reputation for excellence in research. In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings, the department is No. 2 in the nation for best graduate programs in microbiology and No. 4 in the world among global universities.
A Seattle native, Dr. Champoux was part of the first group of students admitted to the University of Washington Honors Program when it was founded in 1961. After graduating with a major in chemistry, he completed his doctorate degree in biochemistry at Stanford University in 1970.
Dr. Champoux’s early career coincided with the biology revolution that began in the 1970s — a time when rapid advances in microbiology and the development of biotechnology were starting to increase our understanding of all living systems. He made his first contribution to this revolution during a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute in San Diego when he discovered an enzyme called DNA topoisomerase I while working with Nobel Prize recipient Renato Dulbecco.
When Dr. Champoux returned home to join the UW Department of Microbiology faculty in 1972, he embarked on an illustrious academic career that continued for the next 47 years. During this time, he made major contributions to our understanding of oncogenesis and viral infections through his research on enzymes and retroviruses.
Dr. Champoux published more than 125 papers, and he was recognized with numerous honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1980-81) and the prestigious NIH Merit Award (1998). He was elected by his peers to be a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (2005) and a member of the Washington State Academy of Sciences (2010). More recently, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017).
As department chair, Dr. Champoux recruited six new faculty members and worked to increase diversity among our faculty and graduate students. He was committed to excellence in education and exemplified this important faculty role as a wonderful teacher of undergraduate and graduate students. In 1985, he won the UW Distinguished Teaching Award.
The news of Dr. Champoux’s unexpected passing has been received by all of his colleagues with shock and sadness. On their behalf, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Katie, on their profound loss. We are very fortunate that Dr. Champoux chose to spend his faculty career in the Department of Microbiology. He will be greatly missed.
Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
CEO, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington
Dr. James Champoux holds a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Stanford University. He did postdoctoral research at the Salk Institute on animal viruses, and did a sabbatical studying retroviruses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Dr. David Baltimore. Dr. Champoux is the recipient of several awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship for sabbatical leave studies and the University of Washington's Distinguished Teaching Award. He was recently elected as a Fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology.
The research in Dr. Champoux's laboratory is focused on several projects relating to the enzymology of nucleic acid synthesis and repair. One project is concerned with human DNA topoisomerase I, an enzyme that provides swivels for DNA replication and other cellular processes such as transcription and recombination. Current studies on topoisomerase I are aimed at understanding (i) the structural basis for the preference for supercoiled over relaxed DNA, (ii) the mechanisms of catalysis and DNA relaxation, (iii) the interactions of topoisomerase I with other proteins in the nucleus, and (iv) the basis for the cytotoxicity of the anticancer drug, camptothecin. A second related interest is the enzyme, tyrosyl DNA phosphodiesterase (Tdp1), that is involved in the repair of irreversible topoisomerase I-DNA covalent adducts that occur under a variety of conditions in the cell, including exposure of cells to the anticancer drug camptothecin. Current work on Tdp1 focuses on the relationship between structure and function, and on the nature of the substrate in vivo.
A third project is concerned with the multiple roles of reverse transcriptase in retroviral replication. One aspect of this work focuses on how the DNA polymerase activity of reverse transcriptase carries out the process of displacement synthesis which is required for the production of the long terminal repeats on the ends of the viral DNA. Another interest is the RNase H activity of reverse transcriptase, which degrades the viral RNA after minus-strand synthesis and also produces the primer RNA for initiating plus-strand synthesis and removes RNA primers once they have been extended into DNA. The structural features of reverse transcriptase that are important for each of these reactions are being examined using both genetic and biochemical approaches. The long term goal of these studies is to understand the details of reverse transcription with an eye towards developing new anti-retroviral therapies.
Recent Publications from PubMed
- Interthal H, Champoux JJThe Biochemical journal. 2011 Jun; 436 3: 559-66
- Multiple nucleotide preferences determine cleavage-site recognition by the HIV-1 and M-MuLV RNases H.Schultz SJ, Zhang M, Champoux JJJournal of molecular biology. 2010 Mar; 397 1: 161-78
- Preferred sequences within a defined cleavage window specify DNA 3' end-directed cleavages by retroviral RNases H.Schultz SJ, Zhang M, Champoux JJThe Journal of biological chemistry. 2009 Nov; 284 47: 32225-38
- Yang Z, Champoux JJMethods in molecular biology (Clifton, N.J.). 2009 ; 582 : 49-57
- Yang Z, Carey JF, Champoux JJThe FEBS journal. 2009 Oct; 276 20: 5906-19