Hop­kins doc­tor wins Lasker Award

Pres­ti­gious prize given for work on how body reg­u­lates oxy­gen lev­els in cells

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By An­drea K. McDaniels am­c­daniels@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/an­walker

A Johns Hop­kins doc­tor who was part of a three-per­son team to fig­ure out howthe body main­tains ad­e­quate oxy­gen lev­els at the cel­lu­lar level, a process cru­cial for sur­vival, has won a med­i­cal award seen as a step­ping­stone to a No­bel Prize.

Dr. Gregg L. Se­menza, direc­tor of vas­cu­lar pro­grams at the Johns Hop­kins In­sti­tute for Cell En­gi­neer­ing, is one of among seven re­cip­i­ents of the Al­bert Lasker Med­i­cal Re­search Awards to be an­nounced to­day.

Eighty-eight Lasker re­cip­i­ents have gone on to win the No­bel Prize.

The Lasker prize was cre­ated by the Al­bert and Mary Lasker Foun­da­tion in 1946 and is re­garded as one of the most im­por­tant bio­med­i­cal science honors. It comes with a $250,000 prize and will be awarded Sept. 23 in New York.

“The work of this year’s hon­orees epit­o­mizes the power and im­pact of ded­i­ca­tion to rig­or­ous and in­no­va­tive med­i­cal re­search,” Claire Pomeroy, pres­i­dent of the Lasker Foun­da­tion, said in a state­ment. “These out­stand­ing ad­vances have il­lu­mi­nated fun­da­men­tal as­pects of life, de­vel­oped a cure for a deadly dis­ease, and raised pub­lic en­gage­ment with science. The in­no­va­tive and highly orig­i­nal achieve­ments of these sci­en­tists high­light the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of sus­tained sup­port for bio­med­i­cal re­search in at­tain­ing a health­ier fu­ture for all.”

The foun­da­tion awarded seven prizes in three cat­e­gories: ba­sic med­i­cal re­search, clin­i­cal med­i­cal re­search and spe­cial achieve­ment.

Se­menza, 60, won the ba­sic med­i­cal re­search award along with William G. Kaelin Jr. of the Dana-Far­ber Cancer In­sti­tute at Har­vard Med­i­cal School and Peter J. Rat­cliffe at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford Fran­cis Crick In­sti­tute for their work on cel­lu­lar oxy­gen lev­els.

Their work has the po­ten­tial to lead to new treat­ments for car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, di­abe- tes and other com­mon dis­eases.

Oxy­gen is needed to ex­tract en­ergy from food, but too much or too lit­tle can cause prob­lems. Over time, the body has learned how to main­tain the right bal­ance of oxy­gen.

Se­menza dis­cov­ered a pro­tein, HIF-1, that turns on cer­tain genes in re­sponse to low lev­els of oxy­gen. His break­through came in the 1990s when he found that the pro­tein ac­ti­vates genes as a de­fense against low oxy­gen lev­els. For in­stance, the pro­tein can ac­ti­vate a gene that plays a key role in the de­vel­op­ment of blood ves­sels.

The pro­tein could one day be used to treat peo­ple with car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease who suf­fer from low oxy­gen lev­els be­cause of clogged ar­ter­ies. It also could be used in cases of di­a­betes, where ves­sels in the legs can be­come blocked, lead­ing to a loss of cir­cu­la­tion and, in the worst cases, gan­grene, which can lead to am­pu­ta­tion.

Se­men­za­con­tin­ues to do­fur­ther test­ing on HIF-1, in­clud­ing re­search on how it can be used to treat deadly triple-neg­a­tive breast cancer. Se­menza

“HIF-1 is match­ing sup­ply and de­mand so the right amount of oxy­gen gets to the cell — not too lit­tle, not too much,” said Se­menza, who is also the C. Michael Armstrong pro­fes­sor of ge­netic medicine, pe­di­atrics, medicine, on­col­ogy, ra­di­a­tion on­col­ogy, and bi­o­log­i­cal chem­istry at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity School of Medicine.

Se­menza doesn’t know who nom­i­nated him for the award. He was com­pletely sur­prised when the head of the se­lec­tion com­mit­tee no­ti­fied him of his win sev­eral weeks ago. He­said­he­do­esn’t dothe­work­for­re­wards. “All of this stuff is very nice, but I don’t worry about things that are out of my con­trol,” he said.

The dean of the Johns Hop­kins School of Medicine said Se­menza has a knack for ask­ing the not-so-ob­vi­ous ques­tion.

“He is re­ally able to ask the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion, get the dis­cov­ery and un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tion of that on hu­man dis­ease,” said Dr. Paul B. Roth­man, also vice pres­i­dent for medicine of the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity and CEO of Johns Hop­kins Medicine.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.