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Protein folding and malaria meds take Laskers

horwich_hartl.jpgTwo protein biochemists have nabbed this year’s Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Franz-Ulrich Hartl, of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich, Germany and Arthur Horwich, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, will share the $250,000 prize.

Sometimes working in collaboration, the scientists helped explain how proteins called chaperonins help other proteins fold into complicated three-dimensional shapes that are sometimes made up of multiple chains of amino acids. In a test tube, proteins typically fold into these shapes on their own, but those destined for the mitochondria, for instance, need help from the cage-shaped chaperonins.

Protein mis-folding has been implicated in a number of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as basic biological processes like ageing.

Tu Youyou, of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing, won the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for her work in the 1960s, 70s and 80s isolating the drug artemisinin from the sweet wormwood plant and showing its antimalarial effects.

The Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award was given to the Clinical Center at the US National Institutes of Health, a research hospital on the NIH’s main campus in Bethesda, Maryland that has seen nearly 450,000 patients since it opened in 1953. Its physician-scientists are currently following 575 different diseases.

The Lasker Awards are sometimes called the mini-Nobels because 80 scientists have won both prizes, with the Lasker often auguring the Physiology or Medicine Nobel.

For more information on these recipients, including essays penned by Hartl, Horwich and Tu, check out Nature Medicine’s Lasker awards feature.

Pictures of Hartl (left) and Horwich courtesy of the Lasker Foundation


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