Lasker Award winners honored for genetics research, drug development, leadership

Four scientists were honored by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The 2018 award winners were selected for their work in genetics research, leadership and mentorship in science and the discovery and development of a widely-used anesthetic.

According to the foundation’s website, the awards recognize fundamental biological discoveries and clinical advances that improve human health. Winners also receive $250,000.

This year’s Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award was given to John B. Glen for the discovery and development of propofol. The drug is the most widely-used anesthetic in the world.

C. David Allis and Michael Grunstein received this year’s Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for their genetics research. According to the website, through Grunstein’s genetics studies in yeast, he “demonstrated that histones dramatically influence gene activity within living cells and laid the groundwork for understanding the pivotal role of particular amino acids in the process.”

Allis was credited for uncovering an “enzyme that attaches a specific chemical group to a particular amino acid in histones, and this histone-modifying enzyme turned out to be an established gene co-activator whose biochemical capabilities had eluded researchers.”

The 2018 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science was awarded to Joan Argetsinger Steitz for her leadership in RNA biology and in scientific mentorship.

“For four decades, (Steitz) has provided leadership in biomedical science. She has made pioneering discoveries about RNA biology, generously mentored budding scientists, and vigorously and passionately supported women in science,” the website said. “She has generated a cascade of discoveries that have illuminated wide-ranging and unanticipated functions for RNA molecules within our cells, and has served as a role model in multiple ways, especially for rising female investigators.”