The Gruber Foundation awards $1.5 million in prizes to three top scientists

The Gruber Foundation will award $1.5 million to an astronomer who explores populations of distant stars, a biologist who investigates how cells repair damaged DNA, and a neuroscientist who studies the formation of synapses that facilitate sight, the foundation announced May 17.

The Yale-based Gruber International Prize Program annually honors individuals in the fields of cosmology, genetics and neuroscience for groundbreaking work that inspires and enables fundamental shifts in knowledge and culture.

“My husband, Peter Gruber, and I established the Gruber International Prize Program in 2000 to honor and encourage outstanding individuals working toward a better world in the sciences and human rights.” says Patricia Gruber, co-founder and president emeritus of the foundation. “To perpetuate this legacy, we reached an agreement with Yale in 2011 to establish the foundation there. The foundation's vision is meant to flourish, and although Peter died in 2014 he would today see continuing vitality in the 2017 Gruber Prize recipients, as well as in all the foundation’s programs at Yale.”

The 2017 Gruber Prize recipients and citations:


Cosmology

Sandra Faber, University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz

For her groundbreaking studies of the structure, dynamics, and evolution of galaxies. Her research ranges from detailed studies of the stellar populations, masses, dark matter content, and supermassive black holes in nearby galaxies, to surveys of distant galaxies over cosmic time. The results of these investigations have aided and inspired the work of astronomers and cosmologists worldwide.


Genetics

Stephen Elledge, the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, investigator for Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

For discovering and characterizing the molecular mechanisms of the DNA damage response pathway in eukaryotic cells, findings critical for understanding pathogenesis and developing therapies for cancer and other diseases. Elledge used clever genetic screens in yeast to identify mechanisms by which cells sense DNA damage and direct effector molecules to initiate efforts to repair the damage and halt progression of the cell cycle until repair is completed. He also showed that this process is conserved in mammals, with orthologous genes playing similar roles. Mutations in many of these genes drive cancer in humans, while others contribute to premature aging or neurological disorders.


Neuroscience

Joshua Sanes, the Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Paul J. Finnegan Family Director, Center for Brain Science, Harvard University

For his pioneering and inspiring work on synapse formation.Josh Sanes has used both the neuromuscular junction and more recently the retina to provide fundamental insights into the mechanisms and molecules that drive synapse formation. In now-classic experiments, he showed that regenerating muscle fibers can recognize molecules in the extracellular matrix to form synapses at pre-existing sites, even when the muscle is gone. In the retina, his studies have identified the synaptic organization of circuits that form the basis for visual processing. Sanes’ elegant approaches and results have led to seminal and highly influential new ideas about synapse formation and the specificity of connections.

For more information on The Gruber Foundation, visit the foundation's website, send e-mail, or contact A. Sarah Hreha at +1 (203) 432-6231. By mail: The Gruber Foundation, Yale University, Office of Development, PO Box 2038, New Haven, CT 06521.

Media materials and additional background information on the Gruber Prizes can be found at the foundation's online newsroom