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Warren Alpert Foundation Prize Recognizes Genetic Pioneers Who Shepherded in the Field of Modern Human Genetics

The 2013 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize will be awarded to David Botstein of Princeton University, and Ronald W. Davis and David S. Hogness, of Stanford University School of Medicine, for their seminal contributions to the concepts and methods of creating a genetic map in the human, leading to the identification of thousands of disease genes. This fundamental work ushered in a new era in human genetics and established the framework for the Human Genome Project.

The recipients will share an unrestricted prize of $250,000 and will be honored at a symposium on Thursday, October 3, 2013, at Harvard Medical School.

David BotsteinThe Alpert Prize recognizes researchers for basic discoveries that promise to improve human health. The collective work of Botstein, Davis and Hogness does just that. Botstein and Davis’ landmark conceptual breakthrough, published in 1980, gave researchers the tools to trace and map out the genetic inheritance of disease in humans, while Hogness’ work provided the means of identifying the precise physical location of genes of interest on chromosomes. These findings revolutionized human genetics, allowing researchers to identify disease genes and focus on potential treatments and cures.

The late Warren Alpert, a philanthropist dedicated to advancing biomedical research, established the Prize in 1987. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $3 million to 45 individuals. Seven honorees have also received a Nobel Prize.

Ronald W. Davis“The work of Botstein, Davis and Hogness perfectly exemplifies the spirit of the Alpert Prize, namely, to honor great science that has profound translational significance,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the faculty of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Every scientist today working in the field of molecular genetics stands on the shoulders of these three giants.”

For much of the twentieth century, geneticists faced significant challenges when trying to apply the tools and insights gained in animal genetics to humans. As a result, while scientists could create precise genetic maps in model organisms, no such equivalent existed for humans.

Botstein and Davis led an effort that resulted in an idea that at the time was absolutely radical, namely, that you don’t have to map the observable traits, known as phenotypes, but instead can follow inheritance patterns using random differences in DNA as genetic markers—differences neutral to evolution and that have nothing to do with observable traits.

David S. HognessFollowing this insight, the first genetic maps that allowed researchers to trace patterns of inheritance in humans were made using as genetic markers locations on chromosomes where restriction enzymes slice through the DNA. And since the markers were DNA, this insight simultaneously provided a means through which the gene walking methods of Hogness could be used to isolate the genes responsible for disease. This method was called positional cloning or chromosome walking. Two of the early successes of this method were isolation of the genes responsible for Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis. Today, the great majority of simple inherited human traits have been mapped using this concept.

“After Botstein, Davis and Hogness published their findings, the world of human genetics changed radically,” said Clifford J. Tabin, head of the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School. “In the thirty years that have followed their breakthroughs, research in human genetics has jumped light years from where it had been. Our understanding into the genetic underpinnings of such complex diseases as certain cancers, heart disease and diabetes, to name just a few, has grown by many orders of magnitude. At this point it’s impossible to quantify the impact these individuals have had.”

“We are humbled and proud to honor Botstein, Davis and Hogness,” said Bevin J. Kaplan, Director of the Warren Alpert Foundation. “They have laid the groundwork for the understanding and treatment of innumerable causes of human suffering. No one is more deserving of this Prize.”

The Warren Alpert Prize has also recognized recipients for discoveries that have impacted a wide spectrum of diseases, including asthma, breast cancer, H. pylori, hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS. Recent past honorees include Julian Adams of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Alfred Goldberg of Harvard Medical School and Kenneth Anderson and Paul Richardson, both of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for the development of bortezomib, a drug that has altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with multiple myeloma; Alain Carpentier of Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou in Paris and Robert S. Langer of MIT for innovations in bioengineering; and the work of Harald zur Hausen and Lutz Gissmann of the German Cancer Research Center on human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancer of the cervix, which was recognized by the WAFP prior to their receiving the Nobel Prize.

Previous winners of the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize

2012  Julian Adams, Infinity Pharmaceuticals, Kenneth Anderson, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Alfred Goldberg, Harvard Medical School, and Paul Richardson, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for the discovery, preclinical and clinical development of bortezomib to FDA approval and front line therapy for the treatment of patients with multiple myeloma. Learn more >

2011  Alain F. Carpentier, MD, PhD and Robert S. Langer, ScD, in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to medicine and innovations in bioengineering. Learn more >

2010  Howard Green, MD, for the development of methodologies for the expansion and differentiation of human keratinocyte stem cells for permanent skin restoration in victims of extensive burns.

2008/2009  Lloyd M. Aiello, MD, for the discovery, characterization and implementation of laser panretinal photocoagulation, which is used to treat proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Learn more >

2007  Harald zur Hausen, DSc, MD, and Lutz Gissmann, PhD, for work leading to the development of a vaccine against human papillomavirus. Learn more >

2006  H. Michael Shepard, PhD, Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, Axel Ullrich, PhD, and Robert Weinberg, PhD, for their contribution to the development of the breast cancer therapy Herceptin, the first target-directed cancer treatment for solid tumors.

2005   Judah Folkman, MD, for discovering angiogenesis and its relationship to disease, and for championing the concept of anti-angiogenic therapies.

2004   Susan Band Horwitz, PhD, for her seminal contributions to the understanding of how the antitumor agent Taxol kills cancer cells.

2003   David V. Goeddel, PhD, Sidney Pestka, MD, and Charles Weissmann, MD, PhD, for their pioneering work on the purification, characterization, and cloning of human interferon-alpha.

2002   Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS, for his pioneering work in understanding the role of vitamin A supplementation in preventing blindness and life-threatening infections in children in the developing world.

2001   Eugene Braunwald, MD, and Barry Coller, MD, for their pioneering work in cardiovascular research which has dramatically reduced the mortality rate for heart attacks.

2000   David Baltimore, PhD, Owen N. Witte, MD, Alex Matter, MD, Nicholas B. Lydon, PhD, and Brian J. Druker, MD, for their research that contributed to the development of a drug that effectively treats chronic megelogenous leukemia and other forms of cancer.

1999   Akira Endo, PhD, Michael S. Brown, MD, and Joseph L. Goldstein, MD, for their research in the development of stations which lower the level of cholesterol in the heart.

1998   K. Frank Austen, MD, for elucidating the pathway forming the leukotrienes and their role in bronchial asthma.

10th Anniversary   Robert Gallo, MD, and Luc Montagnier, MD, for their discovery of human immune deficiency virus (HIV).

1996   Leo Sachs, PhD, Hon MD, and Donald Metcalf, MD, for their discoveries of molecules that regulate the growth and differentiation of bone marrow cells in health and disease.

1995   John A. Clements, MD, for the development of the lung susfactant used for treating pulmonory hyaline membrane disease.

1994   J. Robin Warren, MBBS, and Barry J. Marshall, MBBS, for identifying Helicobacter pylori as the organism that causes gastric and duodenal ulcers.

1993   Stuart H. Orkin, MD, for developing a complete description of thalassemia at the molecular level.

1992   Roscoe O. Brady, MD, for discovering the enzymatic basis of Gaucher's disease leading to its effective treatment.

1991   David W. Cushman, PhD, and Miguel A. Ondetti, PhD, for designing a powerful new approach to the treatment of high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

1989   Yuet Wai Kan, MD, for pioneering the use of DNA in the diagnosis of congenital anemias.

1988   Louis M. Kunkel, PhD, for defining the genetic basis of muscular dystrophy.

1987   Kenneth Murray, PhD, for elaborating the genetics of Hepatitis B as the basis for its vaccine.

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2013 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize
David Botstein of Princeton University, and Ronald W. Davis and David S. Hogness, both of Stanford University School of Medicine, are the recipients of the 2013 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize for their seminal contributions to concepts and methods of creating a genetic map in the human, and of positional cloning, leading to the identification of thousands of human disease genes and ushering in the era of human genetics. Read about the recipients.

Nominations are closed for 2014
Please check back in June for information on nominations for the 2015 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize

2013 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize Symposium
A scientific symposium was held honoring this year's winner on October 3, 2013. View details.

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