This year's recipient of the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research is Alexander Varshavsky, Ph.D., the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits professor of cell biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), for his discoveries on intracellular protein degradation. The $500,000 award, said to be one of the largest prizes in medicine and science in the United States, will be formally given to Dr. Varshavsky on May 21 at Albany Medical Center in Albany, NY.
Dr. Varshavsky's research has provided much insight into cellular mechanisms that control processes including cell growth, cell division, and responses to stress. One of his discoveries, the ubiquitin system of intracellular protein degradation, has, according to the Albany Medical Center, led to the discovery and development of new drugs for treating cancer, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and other illnesses. The multiple myeloma and lymphoma drug bortezomib is one of the treatments that came to be because of his research in this area.
Dr. Varshavsky is also responsible for discovering, among other things, the first degradation signals in short-lived proteins, the first biological functions of the ubiquitin system, and the first specific polyubiquitin chains, the medical center adds. At Caltech, he is currently conducting research on the N-end rule pathway, a part of the ubiquitin system that his lab discovered back in 1986.
“To say he is one of the foremost researchers of our times is an understatement,” Albany Medical Center president and CEO James J. Barba, who is also chair of the National Selection Committee, said in a statement. “Today, the results of his work are standard in biology classes and a solid foundation in biomedical research.”
Established in 2000 by New York businessman Morris “Marty” Silverman, the Albany Medical Center Prize aims to honor scientists whose work has demonstrated significant outcomes that offer medical value of national or international importance. Past winners include Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., who along with Sir John B. Gurdon, Ph.D., also won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work in cellular reprogramming; Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., the molecular biologist who discovered the molecular nature of telomeres; and David Botstein, Ph.D., Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and Eric S. Lander, Ph.D., for their contributions to the Human Genome Project.