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Discoverers of Small Regulatory RNAs and Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs to Receive Lasker Awards for Medical Research
Date:9/13/2008

Pioneer in Understanding Harmful Bacteria Honored with Special Achievement

Award

NEW YORK, Sept. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- The 2008 Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards (http://www.laskerfoundation.org) were announced today. First presented in 1946, the Lasker Awards are the nation's most distinguished honor for outstanding basic and clinical medical research discoveries and for lifetime contributions to medical science.

The Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research honors Victor R. Ambros, 54, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, David C. Baulcombe, 56, of the University of Cambridge, and Gary B. Ruvkun, 56, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston and Harvard Medical School, who discovered tiny RNAs that regulate gene function. These RNAs, some of which are known as microRNAs, govern a multitude of activities in animals and plants, and they have been implicated in a wide range of diseases.

The Lasker-DeBakey Award for Clinical Medical Research honors Akira Endo, 74, of Biopharm Research Laboratories, Inc., Tokyo, who discovered the first statin. Statins significantly lower LDL-cholesterol quantities in the blood, thus dramatically reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, a leading cause of death worldwide and the number one killer in the U.S. Statins are now the most widely prescribed medications in the United States, and benefit an estimated 30 million people worldwide.

The Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science, awarded biennially, honors Stanley Falkow, 74, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, for his many contributions to our knowledge of disease-causing microbes. Falkow's discoveries have shed light on how bacteria transmit antibiotic resistance and other traits to one another and revealed the means by which they infect animal hosts and elicit illness. He pioneered the field of molecular pathogenesis of infectious disease and trained an impressive number of leading investigators in this discipline.

The Awards will be presented at a luncheon ceremony on Friday, September 26th at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. The Honorable Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, will be the keynote speaker.

Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1985, chairs the 24-member international scientific jury that selects recipients of the Lasker Awards. He said that "the 2008 Lasker Awards honor investigators whose open-minded thinking and experimentation challenged conventional wisdom. Their work launched new fields of scientific research that have fostered significant advances in the medical arena."

The discovery of small regulatory ribonucleic acids (RNAs) by Victor Ambros, David Baulcombe, and Gary Ruvkun broke open an entire new field. Until that time, proteins, not RNAs, were thought to govern gene activity in animal cells. "No one imagined that such tiny RNAs could perform useful tasks. In fact, the notion that small RNAs could control gene expression was unheard of," Goldstein said. "Now, laboratories all over the world study hundreds of these RNAs." The tiny molecules control a vast number of genes in plants as well as animals, and play roles in human health and disease, including cancer, viral infections, and congestive heart failure.

Until Akira Endo, treatment for high LDL-cholesterol levels-the bad cholesterol-left much to be desired, a situation that resulted in an unacceptably high incidence of coronary heart disease and premature death. Dietary interventions and the few available drugs worked poorly and the medications came with unwanted side effects. Many scientists also worried that reducing cholesterol might be dangerous because the molecule carries out essential jobs in the cell. "Endo believed in the potential benefits of cholesterol-lowering drugs and toiled day and night for two years to find a compound, the first statin, with that effect," Goldstein said. "Statins have prolonged countless lives and revolutionized the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease." Today, millions of people worldwide take statins to lower their LDL-cholesterol levels safely and markedly reduce their risk of heart attacks.

Early in his career, Falkow discerned that bacteria pass antibiotic resistance among one another on circular pieces of DNA-a finding that paved the way toward recombinant DNA technology. He then pioneered that new method to probe the molecular mechanisms by which bacteria invade their hosts, elude the immune system, and trigger disease. "Stanley Falkow has spent the last five decades delving into the workings of disease-causing microbes," Goldstein said. "A legend in his own time, Falkow is regarded as one of the greatest microbe hunters ever and has trained more than 100 students, many of whom are making their own extraordinary contributions to the field of bacterial pathogenesis."

This year marks the first presentation of the newly renamed Lasker-DeBakey and Lasker-Koshland Awards, honoring the late Michael DeBakey and Daniel Koshland, Jr. "We are proud to link the Lasker name with the names of these outstanding scientists and humanitarians, who dedicated their lives to medical science and human health and were lifelong supporters of the Lasker Foundation and the Lasker Awards," said Dr. Maria C. Freire, President of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation.

The Lasker Awards are given by the Albert & Mary Lasker Foundation. Dr. Freire said that she and the Board of Directors are delighted at the recommendations of the Lasker Jury, and congratulates the winners of this year's Awards. "They follow the tradition of prior laureates in their innovative scientific and medical research for the betterment of people worldwide."

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation

The Lasker Foundation fosters the prevention and treatment of disease and disabilities by honoring excellence in basic and clinical science, educating the public, and advocating for support of medical research. This year the Lasker Awards carry an honorarium of $300,000 for each Award category. The laureates will receive a citation highlighting their achievements and an inscribed statuette of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Lasker Foundation's traditional symbol representing humanity's victory over disease, disability, and death.

Lasker Awards often presage future recognition by the Nobel committee, so they have become popularly known as "America's Nobels." Seventy-five Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 27 in the last two decades.

Additional materials will be posted on Saturday, September 13th at http://www.laskerfoundation.org and will include the full citations for each Award category, plus photos and video of the Awardees.


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SOURCE The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation
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