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2011 Lasker Awards Honor Medical Research Pioneers
Date:9/12/2011

b>Folding

The 2011 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors Franz-Ulrich Hartl, 54, and Arthur L. Horwich, 60, for discovering that proteins cannot fold inside cells by themselves. They determined that a protein-dubbed "chaperonin" because of its assisting role – acts as a cage-like folding "machine" that provides a safe place for proteins to fold, away from outside interference.

The folding process converts linear amino-acid chains into the three-dimensional forms that determine the molecules' function. Beginning in the late 1950s, scientists thought that newly synthesized proteins in cells folded spontaneously without energy input, as they can in the test tube. But in the late 1980s, Hartl and Horwich discovered an apparatus that encases an unfolded protein and promotes folding by harnessing the energy of ATP, the small molecule that drives reactions inside cells. Once inside this machine, proteins can safely fold without sticking to one other.

Hartl and Horwich have shed light on how a previously unknown process involving folding machines isolates young proteins and helps them transform into mature molecules. By unraveling the mysterious workings of these amazing machines, they gave the medical world a key understanding of how proteins reach their biological potential.

Subsequent work suggested that protein folding activity may provide therapeutic benefit for such neurodegenerative illnesses as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, mad cow disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which occur when clumps of entangled misfolded proteins cause neurological symptoms. In addition, a particular protein-folding mutation has been associated with hereditary spastic paraplegia, an illness in which the legs weaken and stiffen.

Tu Youyou Honored for Clinical Research Leading to the Best Treatment for Malaria

The 2011 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors Tu Youyou
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SOURCE The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation
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