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-- WITH PHOTO -- TO HEALTH, MEDICAL, AND NATIONAL EDITORS:
Esteemed Cell Biologist Selected to Receive America's Most
Distinguished Prize in Medicine
ALBANY, N.Y., April 15, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ ---Alexander
Varshavsky, Ph.D., whose landmark discoveries transformed the
understanding of how cell behavior impacts diseases including cancer,
autoimmune disorders and other illnesses, has been selected to receive
the prestigious Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical
Research for 2014.
Dr. Varshavsky is the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Professor of Cell
Biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in
Pasadena, CA. He received this award in recognition of the seminal
discoveries he made on intracellular protein degradation.
The $500,000 award has been given annually since 2001 to those who
have altered the course of medical research and is one of the largest
prizes in medicine and science in the United States. It will be
formally awarded on May 21 during a celebration in Albany, NY, at
Albany Medical Center.
Dr. Varshavsky is best known for his discoveries related to
fundamental aspects of cellular mechanisms that control such vital
processes as cell growth and division, responses to stress, and many
other biological processes. His insights into what is known as the
"ubiquitin system of intracellular protein degradation" underlie one
of most promising and active avenues for development of new drugs for
treating cancer, neurodegeneration syndromes, autoimmune disorders,
and other major diseases.
It has been estimated that studies focused on the ubiquitin system and
regulated protein degradation encompass 30 to 40 percent of all
biomedical research worldwide.
James J. Barba, president and chief executive officer of Albany
Medical Center and chair of the National Selection Committee, said,
"To say he is one of the foremost researchers of our times is an
understatement. Dr. Varshavsky's numerous stunning discoveries in the
laboratory over more than three decades have already led to new drugs
to treat blood cancer, and hold promise for more treatments for so
many devastating diseases. Today, the results of his work are standard
in biology classes and a solid foundation in biomedical research."
"Dr. Varshavsky's discovery of the biological regulation by
intracellular protein degradation and its central role in cellular
physiology is a singular contribution to biomedical science that can
only be described as monumental," said Sir Michael Berridge, a Fellow
at the Babraham Institute, a foremost molecular signaling laboratory
in Cambridge, U.K. "It is very rare for one person to have made so
many fundamental biological discoveries, which continue to the present
According to Jeremy W. Thorner, professor of biochemistry and
molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley,
"Varshavsky is, without doubt, one of the most gifted and uniquely
talented scientists of the modern era. He could have chosen to apply
his characteristic ingenuity and cleverness to any field, but it is to
his very great credit that at the time protein destruction was treated
with a yawn by most biologists he saw a fertile field that held great
potential for unraveling many of the mysteries of biological systems."
The Albany Medical Center Prize was established in 2000 by the late
Morris "Marty" Silverman, a New York City businessman and
philanthropist who grew up in Troy, N.Y., to honor scientists whose
work has demonstrated significant outcomes that offer medical value of
national or international importance. A $50 million gift commitment
from the Marty and Dorothy Silverman Foundation provides for the prize
to be awarded annually for 100 years.
In total, 21 world-renowned investigators have been recipients of this
prestigious award. Three previous Nobel Prize winners have been among
the ranks of researchers honored, and five Albany Prize recipients
have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, including stem cell scientist
Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D.; Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., who
discovered the molecular nature of telomeres; Bruce Beutler, M.D., and
the late Ralph Steinman, M.D., for their discoveries regarding the
detailed workings of the immune system; and Robert Lefkowitz, M.D.,
for his work on cell receptors.
Profile: Alexander Varshavsky, Ph.D.
Over more than three decades of studies, initially at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and later at Caltech, Dr.
Varshavsky's laboratory has made discoveries and inventions that
encompass a broad range of subjects in molecular biology, including
the path-breaking discovery of the biology of the ubiquitin system.
The human body is made up of cells that have the capacity to
differentiate into the entire range of body parts and systems. Cells
proliferate and regenerate in response to numerous physiologic
stimuli, but they also die as part of their normal life cycle. Cells
express many proteins, including ubiquitin, a small cellular protein
first identified in the 1970s. Its role appeared to be to target other
proteins for destruction, but neither the importance of this system
for protein degradation in living cells nor its specific biological
functions were known.
In the early 1980s, fascinated by this system's implications, Dr.
Varshavsky started working in this field-one of a very few at the
time. Through ingenious genetic and biochemical studies with mammalian
cells and yeast, his laboratory was the first to show that the
ubiquitin system mediates the bulk of protein degradation in living
cells, and that it was directly linked to the cell cycle regulation as
well as to several other major processes, including stress responses
and DNA repair.
One important treatment resulting, indirectly, from Dr. Varshavsky's
discoveries is bortezomib, a drug used to treat patients with multiple
myeloma and lymphoma. Many other drugs that rely on his insights,
including those to treat Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and ALS, among
others, target other specific enzymes of the ubiquitin system and are
either in clinical trials or in research and development by
pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies.
The first 'wave' of his discoveries that began in the early 1980s,
with Dr. Varshavsky's demonstration that the ubiquitin system is
essential for protein degradation in living cells, 'ended' around
1990, by which time he had also discovered the first degradation
signals in short-lived proteins, the first biological functions of the
ubiquitin system, the first specific polyubiquitin chains, and the
first genes that encoded critical components of this system.
In his Caltech laboratory, Dr. Varshavsky continues to work in this
biomedical field, with an emphasis on the N-end rule pathway, a
fundamental part of the ubiquitin system that his laboratory
discovered in 1986 and has been studying ever since. Over the last two
decades, these and related studies by the Varshavsky laboratory led to
many other discoveries, some of which are directly relevant to human
diseases and suggest new avenues for their therapy.
For a biography and downloadable photos of Dr. Varshavsky and more
information on the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and
Biomedical Research, go to: www.amc.edu/Academic/AlbanyPrize .
Contact: Sue Ford (518) 262-3421 firstname.lastname@example.org
SOURCE Albany Medical Center
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CO: Albany Medical Center
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