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Esteemed Cell Biologist Selected to Receive America's Most Distinguished Prize in Medicine

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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: .

Contact: Sue Ford (518) 262-3421

Photo -

SOURCE Albany Medical Center

-0- 04/15/2014


AP PhotoExpress Network: PRN10

PRN Photo Desk,

CO: Albany Medical Center

ST: New York




-- DC05623 --

0000 04/15/2014 14:40:00 EDT

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