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November 9, 2015

Breakthrough Prizes Awarded to Five Life Sciences Researchers

  • Five life sciences researchers were honored last night as winners of the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

    The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences intends to honor “transformative” advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life. One such prize is dedicated to work that contributes to the understanding of Parkinson’s disease and neurodegenerative disorders.

    Prizes of $3 million each were presented to:

    • Edward S. Boyden, Ph.D., of MIT, for the development and implementation of optogenetics—the programming of neurons to express light-activated ion channels and pumps, so that their electrical activity can be controlled by light.
    • Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, also for the development and implementation of optogenetics.
    • John Hardy, Ph.D., of University College London, for discovery of mutations in the Amyloid Precursor Protein gene (APP) that cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease, linking accumulation of APP-derived beta-amyloid peptide to Alzheimer’s pathogenesis and inspiring new strategies for disease prevention.
    • Helen Hobbs, M.D., of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for the discovery of human genetic variants that alter the levels and distribution of cholesterol and other lipids, inspiring new approaches to the prevention of cardiovascular and liver disease.
    • Svante Pääbo, Ph.D., of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, for pioneering the sequencing of ancient DNA and ancient genomes, thereby illuminating the origins of modern humans, their relationships to extinct relatives such as Neanderthals, and the evolution of human populations and traits.

    Among other winners, 18-year-old Ryan Chester, of North Royalton, Ohio, won a science laboratory valued at $100,000 for his school, North Royalton High School, to be designed by the school and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. As winner of the inaugural Breakthrough Junior Challenge, Chester also won a $250,000 educational scholarship for a winning video depiction of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, while his teacher Richard Nestoff won a $50,000 award.

    Breakthrough Prize honorees in life sciences and other categories were among winners of a combined $21.9 million that was awarded at the 3rd Annual Breakthrough Prize Awards Ceremony, televised live on the National Geographic Channel. The gala was hosted by Seth MacFarlane, with live performance by Pharrell Williams.

    “The Breakthrough Prize honors achievements in science and math so we can encourage more pioneering research and celebrate scientists as the heroes they truly are,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. “By challenging conventional thinking and expanding knowledge over the long term, scientists can solve the biggest problems of our time.”

    Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are among founders of the Breakthrough Prize, along with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, 23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki, Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang, technology investor Yuri Milner and his wife Julia Milner.

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