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Lasker Award 2017 for Michael N. Hall

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Professor Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel receives the Lasker Basic Medical Research Award 2017 – one of the most distinguished honors in biomedical research. With his discovery of the protein TOR, the biochemist was able to identify a key element in the regulation of cell growth, which is also responsible for the development of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

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Lasker

The TOR complexes discoverers at the Lasker prize ceremony 2017.  From left to right, Robbie Loewith, Mike Hall, Joe Heitman and N. Rao Movva.

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The American Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation honors Michael N. Hall for his fundamental discoveries in cell growth that have opened up a new field of biomedical science.

“Michael Hall showed that TOR proteins control cell growth in response to nutrients and growth factors and thus established that growth is a highly regulated process that is independent of the cell division cycle,” said Joseph L. Goldstein, Chair of the Lasker Medical Research Awards Jury.

The Lasker Award is known as the highest award in medical sciences in the US. Many recipients of the Lasker Award have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.  [source: University of Basel news. To read more]

NCCR Chemical Biology PI, Prof. Robbie Loewith led his post-doctoral studies on the control of cell growth  in the laboratory of Michael Hall at the Biozentrum, University of Basel where he achieved the biochemical characterization of the TOR proteins from yeast revealing that the TORs are part of two structurally and functionally distinct complexes named TORC1 and TORC2.

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(L to R) Jeannette Kunz, early 1990s. Joe Heitman, 1990. Robbie Loewith, early 2000s

An Amazing Turn of Events

by Michael N. Hall

In 1965, a group of scientists from Montreal arrived on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, to collect soil samples. This was the inauspicious beginning of an extraordinary and unpredictable series of events that make up a wonderful biomedical story. Distinct achievements and discoveries that shaped this story, in which I had the good fortune to be a protagonist, were recognized with a Lasker Award in 2012 and now in 2017.

The purpose of the scientists’ journey to a remote island in the South Pacific was to prospect for exotic microbes that might produce novel metabolites that could be developed into drugs—in this case, antifungal drugs. This is how drugs were developed in those days. In 1975, they did indeed isolate such a metabolite, which they named rapamycin, after Rapa Nui. However, while developing rapamycin as an antifungal, they found that it had the undesirable side effect of suppressing the immune system. Rapamycin was therefore abandoned and largely forgotten until it caught the attention of two bold transplant surgeons. In the 1980s and 1990s, Roy Calne and Thomas E. Starzl exploited the formerly undesirable immunosuppressive prop- erties of rapamycin and two other natural compounds (cyclosporin A and FK506) to advance transplantation from an experimental procedure to an accepted treatment for organ failure. For establishing the clinical utility of cyclosporin A, FK506, and rapamycin as immunosuppressive drugs, Calne and Starzl shared the 2012 Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award. The citation reads, ‘‘For the development of liver transplantation, which has restored normal life to thousands of patients with end-stage liver disease.’’

[to read the rest of the story published in Cell, please click here]

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