The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation today announced the winners of the 2013 Lasker Awards, otherwise known as “American Nobels.” The recipients were Richard H. Scheller and Thomas C. Südhof for basic medical research; Graeme M. Clark, Ingeborg Hochmair, and Blake S. Wilson for clinical research; and Bill Gates and Melinda Gates for public service.

Drs. Scheller (Genentech) and Südhof (Stanford University School of Medicine) will receive the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for discoveries concerning rapid neurotransmitter release. Drs. Clark (emeritus at University of Melbourne, Australia), Hochmair (MED-El, Innsbruck, Austria) and Wilson (Duke University) will receive the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for developing the modern cochlear implant. Bill Gates and Melinda Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) will receive the Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award for inspired philanthropy addressing the most pressing global health concerns.

Joseph L. Goldstein, chair of the Lasker Medical Research Awards Jury, pointed out a striking similarity between this year’s basic and clinical research winners. “All five winners embarked on undertakings that required a remarkable degree of technical courage,” he said. Scheller and Südhof independently began a biochemical and molecular exploration of the virgin territory of neurotransmission at a time—25 years ago—when not a single protein in the process had been characterized. In a completely different realm, Clark, Hochmair, and Wilson similarly pursued a goal that many experts deemed impossible. Yet both lines of inquiry opened up entire new worlds. Scheller and Südhof revealed unprecedented detail about how brain cells send messages to one another, and Clark, Hochmair, and Wilson cracked the sound barrier for people with severe hearing problems.”

Dr. Scheller, 59, executive vice president, research and early development at Genentech, and Dr. Südhof, 57, professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University, were honored for discoveries related to rapid neurotransmitter release, a process that helps drive intercellular communications within the brain. They identified and isolated key molecular participants, defined fundamental interactions among these elements, and deciphered details that govern and assure rapid neurotransmitter release.

Through elegant experimentation starting in the 1980s, Scheller, who prior to joining Genentech in 2001 was professor of molecular and cellular physiology and biological science at Stanford University and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Südhof identified key proteins and demonstrated the mechanism by which calcium triggers the fusion process, revolutionizing our understanding of how the brain works. Their discoveries have influenced nearly every aspect of neuroscience research and shed light on the complexities of brain disease, information processing, learning, memory, and human behavior.

Recipients of the Lasker Medical Research Awards are selected by a distinguished international jury chaired by Joseph L. Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for basic medical research and the Nobel Prize in medicine. Eighty-three Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 31 in the past two decades. The Lasker Awards, which carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category, will be presented on September 20 in New York City.

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