Lasker Foundation Announces 2018 Lasker Awards for Basic and Clinical Medical Research and Special Achievement


The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation today announced the winners of its 2018 Lasker Awards: C. David Allis, PhD, of Rockefeller University and Michael Grunstein, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles, will receive the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award; John B. Glen, BVMS, PhD, formerly of Imperial Chemical Inudstries (ICI), will be honored with the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award; and Joan Argetsinger Steitz, PhD, of Yale University, will receive the Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science.

Widely regarded as America’s top biomedical research prize, the Lasker Awards carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category.

The awards will be presented Friday, September 21, in New York City.

The 2018 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Working with yeast in the 1980s, Michael Grunstein, PhD, provided the first demonstration that DNA-packaging histone proteins influence gene expression. He and his team tracked this capability to one end of a histone. Then they showed that the presence or absence of a particular chemical group—an acetyl—at certain spots within histones helps turns genes on and off.

C. David Allis, PhD, discovered that an established gene coactivator can add acetyl groups to histones and that this modification is crucial for efficient gene expression. These findings sealed the connection between histone modifications and genetic regulation.

Drs. Grunstein and Allis revealed a previously-hidden layer of gene control that contributes meaningfully to biological processes. From this foundation, researchers have discovered that errors in histone modifications contribute to several developmental disorders and various forms of cancer, providing new targets for potential therapies.

The 2018 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award

The ability to anesthetize patients for surgical procedures is one of the most important medical advances for human health and well-being, but side effects of early drugs complicated their use. In the 1970s, John B. Glen, BVMS, PhD, began testing drug candidates to find one that offered a rapid onset of anesthesia; amenability to continued delivery for long surgical procedures; and a fast, gentle recovery. Dr. Glen selected propofol, a small molecule drug with these desirable qualities.

After working through several setbacks and complications to formulate the drug for human use, Dr. Glen and his collaborators confirmed the safety and efficacy of the drug. Now the standard drug for intravenous induction of anesthesia, propofol has benefited millions of people. Propofol’s quick and safe recovery profile means that patients can return home soon after their procedures, allowing for a more comfortable recovery, and significantly reduced health-care costs. Currently, propofol is administered over 60 million times per year in the United States, and it remains unsurpassed in effectiveness since its introduction in 1989. The milky color of propofol has led anesthesiologists to refer to the drug as “milk of amnesia.” 

The 2018 Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science

Over the last four decades, Joan Argetsinger Steitz, PhD, pioneered the field of RNA biology and became widely recognized as a passionate advocate for greater inclusion of women in the scientific community. In her research, Dr. Steitz discovered that small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) play a central role in splicing, a key step in gene expression. During this process, cells create the RNA templates used to manufacture proteins. A complicated molecular machine with a core composed of snRNPs cuts out internal sections of precursor messenger RNAs and reconnects the ends to create the final messages.

While carrying out her research, Dr. Steitz has dedicated herself to teaching and mentoring young scientists and advocating for women in science. For 10 years, Dr. Steitz led the Jane Coffin Childs Fund, which grants postdoctoral fellowships to early career researchers. In 2005, she co-authored the influential National Academy of Sciences report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers”. Throughout her career, she has tirelessly campaigned for the full inclusion and support of all members of the scientific community and inspired countless women in STEM careers.

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