The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation has announced the winners of the 2018 Lasker Awards. The awards, among the most prestigious in medical science, recognize the contributions of leaders who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of human disease and carry an honorarium of $250,000.
The 2018 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award was given to C. David Allis (Rockefeller University) and Michael Grunstein (University of California Los Angeles) in recognition of their research on how gene expression is influenced by chemical modification of histones — the proteins that package DNA within chromosomes. Working with yeast in the 1980s, Grunstein provided the first demonstration that DNA-packaging histone proteins influence gene expression. Allis discovered that an established gene co-activator can add acetyl groups to histones and that the modification is crucial for efficient gene expression.
The Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award was given to John B. Glen (Royal College of Anaesthetists), who in the 1970s 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. After overcoming several setbacks and complications, Glen and his collaborators formulated and confirmed the safety and efficacy of propofol for humans. Today, it is the standard choice for intravenous induction of anesthesia and has benefited millions of people.
And the 2018 Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science was awarded to Joan Argetsinger Steitz (Yale University) in recognition of her decades of leadership in biomedical science, exemplified by her pioneering discoveries in RNA biology, mentorship of budding scientists, and vigorous support of women in science. In her research, Steitz discovered that small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) play a critical role in splicing, a key step in gene expression. While carrying out her research, she also dedicated herself to teaching and mentoring young scientists, and in 2005 she co-authored the influential National Academy of Sciences report Beyond Bias and Barriers.
"I was very lucky to have people who had confidence in my ability to make meaningful contributions," said Steitz. "No one could have envisioned these discoveries four decades ago, the advances have been astounding."