Yale’s Lifton receives $3 million science prize at gala Silicon Valley ceremony

Richard Lifton, Sterling Professor of Genetics and chair of the Department of Genetics, has received a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, created by top Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Lifton was one of eight scientists honored Dec. 12 with $21 million in prizes at gala ceremonies hosted by actor Kevin Spacey in Mountain View, California. Celebrities — including Conan O’Brien, Glenn Close, Rob Lowe, and Michael C. Hall — handed out awards to six winners of the life sciences prizes and two co-winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

“Scientists should be celebrated as heroes, and we are honored to be part of today’s celebration,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife, biologist and entrepreneur Anne Wojcicki, two of the event’s sponsors.

Lifton, who is also an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was recognized for his pioneering work to identify the genetic and biochemical underpinnings of hypertension, a disease that affects more than 1 billion people worldwide and that contributes to 17 million deaths annually from heart attack and stroke. Lifton and his colleagues identified patients around the world with exceptionally high or low blood pressure due to single gene mutations. They identified the mutated genes and established their role in salt reabsorption by the kidney and regulation of blood pressure. The work gave scientific rationale to limit dietary salt intake and suggested rational combinations of antihypertensive medications and development of new therapies.

Other sponsors of the event are Chinese internet entrepreneur Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang; Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner and his wife, Julia Milner; and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

At the end of the ceremonies, which will be televised on the Science Channel at 9 p.m. on Jan. 27, Milner and Zuckerberg announced the creation of a $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics that will be awarded next year.

Additional information on the prizes can be found at www.breakthroughprizeinlifesciences.org or www.fundamentalphysicsprize.org.