Photo of Paul Tesar wearing the Case Medal for Excellence in Health Science Innovation

5 questions with… Paul Tesar, recipient of the School of Medicine’s highest honor

When Dean Stan Gerson called Paul Tesar to the stage at the School of Medicine’s State of the School address last month, the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics believed he’d be speaking about the Institute of Glial Sciences—a new center he’s directing. Instead, as his family smiled at him from the back of the auditorium, he made a new discovery: he was receiving the Case Medal for Excellence in Health Science Innovation, the school’s highest possible honor.

“To be recognized alongside the remarkable icons of the School of Medicine, including many of my CWRU science heroes, is an incredible honor,” said Tesar. “This award is not just mine, but a reflection of the incredible scientific team that I work with and our unwavering commitment to advance our discoveries into the clinic to benefit patients and their families.”

Tesar has been at the forefront of unraveling the complexities of glial cell dysfunction and its crucial role in human neurological diseases. The research his team leads in the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences has not only deepened our understanding of these cells but has also led to groundbreaking advancements in treatments. 

Photo of Paul Tesar speaking as he accepts Case Medal for Excellence in Health Science Innovation

Among their notable achievements are the discovery of two novel classes of medicines—a remyelination therapy for multiple sclerosis, which the university licensed to Convelo Therapeutics, and an antisense oligonucleotide therapy for Pelizaeus Merzbacher disease, licensed to Ionis Pharmaceuticals and slated for clinical trials early next year.

And now, with the Institute of Glial Sciences established in November, Tesar and his team are poised to advance this research further. 

“Paul’s commitment to advancing knowledge and fostering the next generation of scientists underscores [this] well-deserved recognition,” said Dean Gerson. “The brilliance he brings to the study of neurodegenerative diseases is just one of the many reasons he is so well deserving of this award.” 

Tesar received his undergraduate degree summa cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in 2003, where he majored in biology. He furthered his academic career from there, earning a PhD from the University of Oxford on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) scholarship. Under the mentorship of Professor Sir Richard Gardner (Oxford) and Ron McKay (NIH), Tesar’s seminal discoveries, including paradigm-shifting research on pluripotent epiblast stem cells, published in Nature in 2007, garnered widespread acclaim, including the Beddington Medal and the Harold M. Weintraub Award. He joined Case Western Reserve’sSchool of Medicine faculty in 2010 as a Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation Scholar. 

Tesar’s scientific career has earned him many accolades, including recognition as a Robertson Investigator of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, the International Society for Stem Cell Research Outstanding Young Investigator Award and the New York Stem Foundation–Robertson Stem Cell Prize. He was recently elected as a senior member of the National Academy of Inventors. Additionally, he has been honored locally, named one of Crain’s Cleveland Business’ “Forty Under 40” in 2019, and recognized as a “HomeGrown Hero” in Academic Research by

Tesar is recognized for his dedication to mentorship, too. With over 50 trainees, more than half of whom are women and nearly 20% of whom are from underrepresented groups in medicine, Tesar has received numerous awards for mentoring, including the John S. Diekhoff Award for Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring, the J. Bruce Jackson MD award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring and the 2021 NINDS Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship. 

Learn more about the latest Case Medal for Excellence in Health Science Innovation recipient in this week’s five questions.

1. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?

My wife and I often joke that food is our only hobby, so this is a tough question. Momocho and Zhug are my two favorites overall. Both places have incredibly flavorful dishes and consistent quality. Here are some of my favorite individual items across town: main dish (Tamale Frito at Momocho), doughnuts (Biagio’s), wings and fries (Wright Place Tavern), pizza (Pizzeria DiLauro), pasta (ricotta agnolotti at Flour), salad (fattoush at Aladdin’s), fast casual (Tikka Masala Perfect Balance Bowl at Choolaah), gelato (Gelato “Spaghetti” at Il Venetian), cheese (L’Albatros), bagels (Cleveland Bagel Company), atmosphere (Marble Room), cupcakes (White Flour Cake Shoppe), candy (Richards Maple Products), gnocchi (my mom’s house), and espresso (my house).

2. If you could go back in time and give your childhood self advice, what would you say?

If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be this: Embrace optimism and positivity. Surround yourself with people who see the glass as half full, those who not only acknowledge closed doors but also actively seek to open new ones. Optimists aren’t just ignoring challenges; they’re experts at finding opportunities and creating their own paths. Remember, in science, as in life, things rarely go as planned. Learning from both your successes and your setbacks is key to crafting your own happiness.

3. What’s the best way to unwind after a long day?

I asked my daughter what I should write to answer this question, and she said I “do emails after work,” which probably indicates that I should find more ways to unwind. It is true that the many roles I have require me to work long hours, but I make sure to protect time every night to spend with my family. We always eat dinner together and have fun playing outside, running, walking the dog, riding horses and playing games.

4. Who has inspired you most in life?

The person who has inspired me the most in my life is my daughter. Becoming a parent has taught me patience, unconditional love and has fundamentally made me a better person. She inspires me every day to be the best version of myself, not just for her but for the world she will inherit. In addition, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the incredible and unwavering support from my mom, who has always been a pillar of strength and wisdom in my life, and my wife, whose love and partnership have been a constant source of encouragement and growth. Each of these three ladies, in their unique ways, has shaped who I am and continues to inspire me.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

CWRU will always hold a special place in my heart. As an undergraduate, this is where I discovered my love of science, solidified my career path, and, most importantly, met my wife. I feel fortunate that I was able to come back home over 14 years ago to lead a research team in the School of Medicine. I can say with certainty that my favorite thing at CWRU is the people. There is this Midwest mindset that permeates the culture—kind, collaborative, and hard-working individuals looking to make the Cleveland community and this world a better place.