Posted on behalf of Mark Zastrow.
The 2014 Albert Lasker Special Achievement Award has been awarded to the geneticist Mary-Claire King. King, of the University of Washington in Seattle, is the leader of the team that discovered the BRCA genes, mutations in which are linked to breast cancer. King’s team found that the 10% of women affected by such mutations have nearly an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. The rush to develop tests for the mutations triggered a legal dispute in the United States that ended with a US Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the patenting of naturally occurring genes.
King was also recognized for her contributions to human rights in developing DNA analysis to prove genetic relationships. These have have been used to find the ‘lost children’ of Argentina — who were kidnapped and separated from their biological families as infants — and to identify the remains of soldiers missing in action and of disaster victims.
Other winners of this year’s Lasker awards, often referred to as ‘the American Nobels’, include molecular biologists Kazutoshi Mori of Kyoto University in Japan and Peter Walter of the University of California in San Francisco, in the category of basic medical research. They independently uncovered how cells correct proteins that are improperly folded by activating the transcription of certain genes.
The winners for clinical medical research were neurologists Alim Louis Benabid of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, and Mahlon R. DeLong of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, for their work in high-frequency deep-brain stimulation. By targeting an area of the brain involved in motor functions called the subthalamic nucleus, they found the technique could be used to treat those with Parkinson’s disease to alleviate tremors and motor problems.