The basic medical research award goes to Michael Sheetz of Columbia University, James Spudich of Stanford University, and Ronald Vale of the University of California, San Francisco, for their work on cytoskeletal motor proteins, which serve a variety of cellular functions, including transporting cargo, contracting muscles, and enabling cell movement. Collectively the trio “established ways to study molecular motors in detail,” according to the Lasker announcement. Their work supported subsequent discoveries that include the motor protein kinesin and the process of using chemical energy to power the cell. “The landmark achievements of Vale, Spudich, and Sheetz are driving drug-discovery efforts aimed at cardiac problems as well as cancer,” the announcement read.
The prize in the category of clinical medical research went to Thomas Starzl of the University of Pittsburgh and Roy Calne, an emeritus professor at Cambridge University, for the development of liver transplantation, once “deemed an impossible dream,” according to the Lasker announcement. Starzl’s first liver transplant patient died on the table in 1963, and several other early transplant patients died within weeks of the procedure. But even these fatalities had a silver lining: they showed that the transplanted livers were functional. Taking clues from Calne’s experiments with dogs, the two men eventually succeeded in blocking organ rejection, and paved the way to making liver transplantation a standard of care in the clinic.
Leading the way
Finally, Donald Brown of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Baltimore and Tom Maniatis of Columbia University take the award for special achievement in medical science for "exceptional leadership and citizenship in biomedical science," according to the Lasker announcement. Both men have contributed to the scientific community above and beyond their own genetics research. Brown, for example, founded the Life Sciences Research Foundation, which funds postdoc opportunities in prestigious labs around the world. Maniatis’s contributions include the Molecular Cloning manual, a widely used guide to modern lab techniques.
(Hat tip to GenomeWeb.)