Yale's Horwich Wins Lasker Award, One of Science's Top Honors

Arthur L. Horwich of the Yale School of Medicine was named co-winner of the prestigious 2011 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his discoveries of how proteins form their complex shapes, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced Monday.

Horwich, Sterling Professor of Genetics and professor of pediatrics, joins Franz-Ulrich Hartl of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany as co-winner of this year’s research award.  Since the inception of the Lasker Awards in 1945, 80 Lasker laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize: 28 in the last two decades.

“Art is a spectacular researcher with an extraordinary commitment to science,” said Dr. Robert J. Alpern, dean of the Yale Medical School and the Ensign Professor of Medicine. “His keen intellect led us to a new understanding of one of biology’s basic questions: How do proteins fold into their precise shapes?”

Proteins are produced from DNA’s instruction manual and manufactured in cellular structures called ribosomes, emerging single-file in a chain of amino acids. Proteins are crucial to the function of all life but become biologically active only when they fold into complex, origami-like structures.  Scientists used to think that proteins folded into shape by themselves, without any cellular energy input.  Over more than two decades of work, Horwich and Hartl showed that proteins fold in the cell with the assistance of specialized proteins called chaperonins, which form a sort of a dressing room in which nascent proteins are assisted into their functional shapes.

Today, scientists know that malfunctions of protein folding activity can cause proteins to clump together, a process implicated in neurodegenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, mad cow and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“We had a hard time believing there was such a thing as a folding machine when our initial genetic work suggested it in the late 1980s, but 20 years of work have allowed us to see the chaperonin machine at x-ray structural resolution and dissect how it works,” said Horwich, an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Nature has come up with something amazingly beautiful to help proteins fold inside the cell.”

“I’m elated, enormously honored, and humbled to be recognized for this work,” he said.

Arthur L. Horwich, MD

Age: 60
Education: Brown University
MD from Brown University
Resident, Yale School of Medicine

Titles: Sterling Professor of Genetics and Professor of Pediatrics,
Yale School of Medicine
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Major Awards:
Gairdner International Award 2004
Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences  2007
Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science 2008
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize 2008

Horwich Home Page
Horwich Lab
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

In addition to Horwich, two current Yale faculty members have won Laskers: James Rothman, the Wallace Professor of Biomedical Sciences, professor and chair of cell biology, and Vincent DeVita, the Joseph and Amy Perella Professor of Medicine at Yale Cancer Center. Both men were honored while working at different institutions.

Tu Youyou of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing, will receive the 2011 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for saving millions of lives by discovering artemisinin, the most effective treatment now available against malaria. The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health received the foundation’s public service award for serving as a model institution that has transformed scientific advances into innovative therapies and provided high-quality care to patients.

“The awards further underscore the ways in which research advances deepen our knowledge of the fundamentals of biology and have had a transformative effect upon the lives and health of people all over the world,” said Alfred Sommer, chair of the Lasker Foundation board of directors.

The Lasker Awards, which carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category, will be presented at a ceremony on Friday, September 23 in New York City.

Founded in 1942 The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation fosters the prevention and treatment of disease and disabilities by honoring excellence in basic and clinical science, by educating the public, and by advocating for support of medical research. More details on the 2011 Lasker Award recipients, the full citations for each award category, video interviews and photos of the awardees and additional information on the foundation are available at www.laskerfoundation.org.

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Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322