Janet S. Butel, PhD, spent her entire career with the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, retiring as a distinguished service professor emeritus in 2018. Having held the role of distinguished service professor from 1995 to 2018, she was also the Joseph L. Melnick professor of virology from 1986 to 2018 and the Kyle and Josephine Morrow chair from 2013 to 2018. Between 2005 and 2017, she was the leader of a research program in the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, the director of the Baylor-UT Houston Center for AIDS Research from 2005 to 2015 and the chair of the department of molecular virology and microbiology from 2000 to 2016. The director of the Baylor Center for AIDS Research from 1994 to 2005, she was also the head of the division of molecular virology at Baylor College of Medicine from 1989 to 1999. Dr. Butel began her career with Baylor as an assistant professor in 1968, rising to full professor by 1976.
Proud to have contributed fundamental research to the biology of tumor viruses and their cancer-causing mechanisms, Dr. Butel cites the highlight of her career as the work she did regarding a viral contaminant in the early live polio vaccine. Furthermore, she was the first woman to be awarded an endowed professorship at Baylor, as well as the first woman to chair a Baylor academic unit and the first woman designated a distinguished service professor. Over the years, she trained approximately 50 graduate students and postdoctoral and clinical fellows. As a result of her decades of research, she has contributed over 300 papers, review articles and book chapters to professional journals and books. From 1987 to 2013, she served as the contributor editor for the virology section of nine editions of “Medical Microbiology,” and was on the editorial boards for various journals between 1976 and 2018.
Having served on a variety of scientific boards and councils, Dr. Butel has been active with the American Cancer Society, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for AIDS Research, the American Association for Cancer Research and Kansas State University. She spent time as division chair and group four representative for the American Society of Microbiology and was on the Colorado board of governors for the International Association for Breast Cancer Research. Other memberships of hers include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Society for Virology, the Association of Medical School Microbiology and Immunology Chairs, and Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society.
Finding she greatly enjoyed chemistry while in high school, Dr. Butel initially thought to pursue pharmacy, but became fascinated with virology after taking a course on microbiology. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science, summa cum laude, from Kansas State University in 1963, she became a graduate fellow with the National Science Foundation from 1963 to 1966 and earned her Doctor of Philosophy, with honors, from Baylor University in 1966. She concluded her studies as a postdoctoral fellow at Baylor College of Medicine from 1966 to 1968. In 2003, she was recognized as a Kansas State University alumni fellow, and has twice been named Distinguished Alumnus of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences by Baylor College of Medicine, first in 2002 and again in 2017.
For excellence in her career, Dr. Butel has been the recipient of a number of honors and accolades. Between 1973 and 2015, she received continuous research grants from the National Institutes of Health and was the recipient of a Women in Cancer Research-Charlotte Friend memorial lectureship in 2007. Later on, she was presented with the BioHouston Women in Science Award in 2013 and was honored at the Harris County Medical Society’s Women in Health & Medical Science Gala in 2014. Interviewed for the Texas Medical Center Women’s History Project in 2015, she had January 6th named Dr. Janet Butel Day in Houston by Mayor Sylvester Turner in 2017. In light of all her accomplishments, she was presented with the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020.
Born in Overbrook, Kansas, to father Floyd Charles Butel and mother Bernice Humbert, Dr. Butel has been happily married to her husband, David Yates Graham, MD, since 1967. Together they are the proud parents of two children, Kathleen Lomax, MD, and David P. Graham, MD, and grandparents to twin granddaughters. Dr. Butel’s family also included four brothers. Enjoying gardening in her free time, Dr. Butel intends to continue writing papers in her retirement as well as conducting Zoom meetings and seminars.