Five life sciences researchers were honored last night as winners of the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences honors “transformative” advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life. One prize is dedicated to work that contributes to the understanding of neurological diseases.
Prizes of $3 million each were presented to:
• Joanne Chory, Ph.D., of Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for discovering the molecular mechanisms by which plants extract information from light and shade to modify their programs of shoot and leaf growth in the photosynthetic harvest of light.
• Don W. Cleveland, Ph.D., of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at University of California, San Diego, for elucidating the molecular pathogenesis of a type of inherited amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), including the role of glia in neurodegeneration, and for establishing antisense oligonucleotide therapy in animal models of ALS and Huntington disease.
• Kazutoshi Mori, Ph.D., of Kyoto University, for elucidating the unfolded protein response, a cellular quality-control system that detects disease-causing unfolded proteins and directs cells to take corrective measures.
• Kim Nasmyth, Ph.D., of the University of Oxford, for elucidating the sophisticated mechanism that mediates the perilous separation of duplicated chromosomes during cell division and thereby prevents genetic diseases such as cancer.
• Peter Walter, Ph.D., of University of California, San Francisco, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for elucidating the unfolded protein response, a cellular quality-control system that detects disease-causing unfolded proteins and directs cells to take corrective measures.
Junior Challenge Winner
Among other winners, 18-year-old Hillary Diane Andales of the Philippines has won the third annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge, a global science video competition designed to inspire creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, as well as in physics, and mathematics.
She will receive $250,000 in educational prizes; her science teacher will receive $50,000, and her school will receive a new fabrication/physics/design/innovation laboratory valued at $100,000, to be designed by and in partnership with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Andales triumphed in her second time in the competition. Last year, she was Top Scorer in the Popular Vote, a segment of the contest that allows the public to vote for their favorites online. Andales won a DNA molecular biology laboratory as her school recovered from damage by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Breakthrough Prize honorees in life sciences and other categories were among winners of a combined $22 million that was awarded at the 6th Annual Breakthrough Prize Awards Ceremony, held at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA, and televised live on the National Geographic Channel.
The gala was hosted by Morgan Freeman, with a live performance by Wiz Khalifa and musician Nana Ou-Yang, and presenters that included Mayim Bialik, Lily Collins, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Katie Ledecky, Kerry Washington, John Urschel, Miss USA Kára McCullough, and the founders of the Breakthrough Prize.
“The Breakthrough Prize was created to celebrate the achievements of scientists, physicists, and mathematicians, whose genius help us understand our world and whose advances shape our future,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a statement. “The world needs their inspiration, and their reminder that even though it doesn’t always feel that way, we are making steady progress toward building a better future for everyone.”
Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, M.D., are among founders of the Breakthrough Prize, along with Google co-founder Sergey Brin; 23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki; technology investor Yuri Milner and his wife Julia Milner; Graydon Carter, who has said he will step down this month as Vanity Fair editor after 25 years; and Pony Ma, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Internet services provider Tencent.
Since its inception in 2012, the Breakthrough Prize has awarded close to $200 million to honor paradigm-shifting research in life sciences, as well as physics and mathematics.