The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation has announced Mary-Claire King, PhD, of the University of Washington, Seattle, will receive the 2014 Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award for her contributions to medical science and human rights.
Dr. King’s demonstration of the existence of familial susceptibility to breast cancer and her discovery of the BRCA1 gene locus took place in the era before high-speed sequencing technology and at a time when few scientists believed that susceptibility to a complex disease such as breast cancer could be linked to a single mutated gene.
Dr. King began her search for the putative gene in 1974. The hunt took her through meticulous analysis and mathematical modeling of more than 1,500 families of women with breast cancer, from which she concluded that a single gene was indeed responsible for breast cancers in some families. In 1990, Dr. King reported that a section of chromosome 17 was responsible for early-onset breast and/or ovarian cancer in some of the families she analyzed. She named the gene locus BRCA1. Dr. King’s approach has since become a model for the identification of genes that cause complex diseases.
Dr. King also developed DNA-based analysis to help families prove genetic relationships and find the “lost children” of Argentina who had been kidnapped as infants or born while their mothers were in prison during the military regime of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Lasker Awards, which carry an honorarium of $250,000, are being presented on Friday, September 19, in New York City. ■