Press Release - 2009 LASKER AWARDS HONOR TRAILBLAZERS IN MEDICAL ...
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Press Release - 2009 LASKER AWARDS HONOR TRAILBLAZERS IN MEDICAL ...
EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE UNTIL SEPTEMBER 14, 2009
FROM: The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation
New York, New York
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2009 LASKER AWARDS HONOR TRAILBLAZERS IN
MEDICAL RESEARCH AND PUBLIC SERVICE:
John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka, for Breakthrough Research in
Nuclear Reprogramming and Stem Cells
Brian J. Druker, Nicholas B. Lydon and Charles L. Sawyers,
for Lifesaving Discoveries in Treatment of Leukemia
Michael R. Bloomberg, for Landmark Policy and Philanthropic Initiatives to
Reduce Tobacco Use and Foster Public Health
New York, Sept. 13, 2009 - The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, which for 64 years has
championed the greatest breakthroughs in medical research, today announced the winners of the
2009 Lasker Awards for outstanding accomplishments in basic medical and clinical medical
research, and public service. The three awards—recognized as the most prestigious medical
research awards in the United States today— honor six visionaries whose insight and courage
has led to dramatic advances that will prevent disease and prolong life.
John Gurdon of Cambridge University and Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University will
receive the 2009 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for breakthrough discoveries into
the process that instructs specialized adult cells to form stem cells. Brian J. Druker of Oregon
Health & Science University, Nicholas B. Lydon, formerly of Novartis, and Charles L.
Sawyers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center will receive the 2009 Lasker~DeBakey
Clinical Medical Research Award for groundbreaking work on the treatment of chronic myeloid
leukemia. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will receive the 2009 Mary Woodard
Lasker Public Service Award for his bold policy initiatives that set a world standard for using
public health concerns to propel government action, and for advancing the public’s health
through enlightened philanthropy.
“The 2009 Lasker Awards underscore the ways in which our commitment to medical research
opens up new areas of inquiry, and enables science-based decision making to improve the
public’s health,” said Maria Freire, President of the Lasker Foundation. “All six Laureates have
played crucial roles in finding solutions to a host of vexing health problems. Lives everywhere
may be saved and improved because of their bold innovations in public health, cell
differentiation, and cancer treatments.”
“In bestowing these honors, the Lasker Foundation hopes to focus attention on innovative
thinkers and researchers whose willingness to challenge assumptions and pursue new paths will
expand our scientific knowledge and lead to an enhanced quality of life,” said Joseph L.
Goldstein, Chair of the Lasker Medical Research Awards Jury.
The Lasker Awards, which carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category, will be presented
at a ceremony on Friday, October 2 at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Since 1945, the
Lasker Awards program has recognized the contributions of scientists, physicians, and public
servants internationally who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis,
treatment, cure, and prevention of human disease.
Honoring Insight & Innovation in Science
The 2009 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors John Gurdon, 76, of
Cambridge University and Shinya Yamanaka, 47, of Kyoto University whose discoveries
concerning nuclear reprogramming opened new avenues for pursuing exciting aspects of
embryonic and adult stem cell research, for understanding inscrutable diseases, and for exploring
personalized cell-replacement therapies.
Starting in the mid-1950s, Gurdon established that the vast majority of the body’s cell types
retain all of their genetic information as they specialize and that the right conditions can wake up
genes that turn idle during development. Gurdon’s discoveries in frog eggs ignited the entire
field of “nuclear reprogramming” whereby specialized adult cells turn into stem cells that can
then differentiate to form many of the body’s tissues. This line of inquiry with amphibian eggs
allowed other work to unfold, including the creation by Scottish scientists of Dolly, the sheep
that made history in 1997 as the first clone made from the nucleus of a fully specialized
mammalian adult cell.
Picking up on Gurdon’s findings, but obviating the need for using eggs, Shinya Yamanaka
stunned the world in 2006 by reprogramming fully differentiated mouse skin cells into stem cells
that can specialize into many fetal and adult types of cells. Subsequent research based on the
findings of Gurdon and Yamanaka has the potential to make reprogrammed cells a source of
patient-specific cells for use in medicine that will enable the body to regenerate, repair, replace
and restore diseased or damaged cells, tissues and organs.
The 2009 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors Brian J. Druker, 54,
of Oregon Health & Science University, Nicholas B. Lydon, 52, formerly of Novartis, and
Charles L. Sawyers, 50 of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Druker and Lydon’s
research led to the development of imatinib (or Gleevec). Sawyers’ research spearheaded efforts
toward combating the resistance to Gleevec that arises in some patients. The team’s discoveries
converted chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) from a fatal cancer to a manageable condition.
Gleevec has revolutionized the world of cancer drug discovery and therapy by its mode of action,
which specifically targets a cancer-causing molecule, killing abnormal cells and avoiding
damage to normal cells. Rather than aiming at rapidly proliferating cells and provoking toxic
side effects, as standard chemotherapeutic agents do, the awardees stymied the single rogue
enzyme that triggers CML—a tactic that most scientists predicted would fail.
Druker and Lydon persevered, and in 1996 they reported that Gleevec destroys cells that require
the enzyme to survive but not other cells. Sawyers, who was studying the enzyme, joined the
effort and clinical trials got underway in 1998 leading to astonishing results. At one point they
witnessed something no oncologist had seen before – patients on the edge of death were
climbing out of bed and leaving the hospital within one week of their first Gleevec dose. In May
2001, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug. Sawyers then led efforts toward
combating the resistance to Gleevec that arises in some patients. In an unprecedented approach
for the field, he ferreted out the molecular basis of resistance and, based on this information,
conceived ways to once again strangle the cancer cells that no longer succumb to the drug. The
dramatic success of Druker, Lydon, and Sawyers has provided a model that extends well beyond
CML. Indeed, many potential drugs for cancer that attack specific troublesome molecules are
now in development and dozens have been approved. Druker, Lydon and Sawyers have radically
improved the prognosis for CML and have provided a new paradigm for cancer therapy.
The 2009 Mary Woodard Lasker Public Service Award honors New York City Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg, 67, for employing sound science in making policy decisions and
advancing public health through enlightened philanthropy. In doing so, he faced down fierce
opposition from vested interests to reduce tobacco use and promote healthy eating habits, helping
stop disease before it starts. Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts continue to resonate throughout the
world, contributing to a decline in tobacco use among New York City teenagers and an increased
reliance on healthier ingredients by restaurants. Without political action to curb the consumption
of harmful substances and major educational initiatives to nurture responsible choices in diet and
lifestyle, even the most promising medical advances will not reverse the incidence of heart
disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. Bloomberg has fueled advances not only through his
activities as an elected official, but also by backing higher education in public health with
unprecedented levels of support and committing $350 million to a global initiative to combat
tobacco use. By relentlessly translating knowledge about public health into bold government
action, he has benefited a large urban community and set an example and a new standard for
cities and countries across the globe.
Additional information: Brian Druker and Charles Sawyers are Investigators at the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute. Shinya Yamanaka is a Senior Investigator at the Gladstone Institute
of Cardiovascular Disease.
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. Founded in 1942, the Lasker Foundation presents the prestigious Lasker
Awards, which recognize the world’s leaders in basic and clinical medical research, and individuals with
outstanding public service. For much of the 20th Century, the Foundation was led by Mary Lasker, who
was America’s most prominent citizen-activist for public investment in medical research. She is widely
credited with motivating the White House and the Congress to greatly expand federal funding for medical
research, particularly through the National Institutes of Health.
About the Lasker Awards: The Lasker Awards are among the most respected science prizes in the
world. Recipients of the Lasker Medical Research Awards are selected by an international jury chaired
by Joseph L. Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel
Prize in Medicine. The Public Service Award Selection Committee is chaired by Harvey V. Fineberg,
President of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science. Lasker Laureates receive a
citation highlighting their achievements and an inscribed statuette of the Winged Victory of Samothrace,
the Lasker Foundation’s traditional symbol representing humanity’s victory over disease, disability, and
death. Seventy-six Lasker Laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 28 in the last two decades.
More details on the 2009 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