Prestigious prize for molecular motors, liver transplants

The Lasker Awards, prized at $250,000, are sometimes a prelude to the Nobel Prize in medicine.

This year’s Lasker Awards for biomedical science honor researchers for their discoveries on cell movement and scientists who have paved the way for liver transplants.

The Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award goes to Michael Sheetz of Columbia, James Spudich of Stanford, and Ronald Vale of the University of California, San Francisco -- for establishing ways to study molecular motors in detail.

Specifically, it was their discoveries on the cell’s motor proteins, machines that move cargoes within cells, contract muscles, and enable cell movements. ScienceNOW explains:

Starting in the 1970s, their laboratory studies first of a spindly alga called Nitella and, later, of giant squid axons allowed the researchers to probe the proteins that move themselves or other proteins along the cell's internal skeletal network. They also discovered a new cytoskeletal motor protein, kinesin (pictured), that walks along filaments known as microtubules.

The work revealed how molecular machines allow cells to move and muscles to contract – pointing toward new potential drugs for cardiac disease and cancer.

The Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award goes to Roy Calne of the University of Cambridge and Thomas Starzl of the University of Pittsburgh – for developing liver transplantation for patients with end-stage liver disease.

Starting in the late 1950s, initially with work on dogs, Calne and Starzl overcame obstacles such as the liver's complex vasculature and pioneered the use of drugs to prevent the immune system from rejecting the transplant. As a result of their work, in 1983 U.S. medical experts accepted liver transplantation as a medical procedure.

Tens of thousands of people are alive today because they received a transplant for diseases such as cirrhosis or a blocked bile duct.

And finally, the Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award honors Donald Brown of Carnegie Institution for Science and Tom Maniatis of Columbia -- for their work on genes and for supporting young scientists.

The awards, which include a $250,000 honorarium, were announced earlier today. They’ll be presented later this month in New York. The award is sometimes a prelude to a Nobel Prize in medicine: 81 Lasker laureates have gone on to receive the Nobel.

[Via ScienceNOW, Lasker Foundation]

Image: Graham Johnson via Lasker Foundation

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