Longtime collaborators Victor R. Ambros, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) and Gary B. Ruvkun, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, were awarded the 2012 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research today by Johnson & Johnson for their co-discovery of microRNA
, tiny molecules that are now understood to play a powerful role in gene expression
and regulation. The award was announced during an event at the Biotechnology Industry Organization International Convention in Boston.
The award was created by Johnson & Johnson to honor the legacy of one of the most passionate, creative and productive scientists of the 20th century, Dr. Paul Janssen (1926-2003). The legacy of Dr. Paul - as he was known in the scientific community - continues to inspire the company's commitment to developing innovative solutions for unmet medical needs. Dr. Paul's work led to breakthroughs in several fields, including pain management, psychiatry, infectious disease and gastroenterology. Four of the drugs discovered by Dr. Paul and his team remain on the World Health Organization's list of essential medicines.
This is the second time in six years that a UMass Medical School scientist has been recognized by the Janssen Award selection committee. UMass Medical School professor Craig C. Mello won the inaugural Janssen Award in 2006.
"Victor is one of the great pioneers of microRNAi and an integral member of an exceptional community of RNA researchers here at UMass Medical School. Together, these faculty are advancing the world's understanding of fundamental biological mechanisms and furthering the field of biomedical sciences," said Chancellor Michael F. Collins, MD. "We are delighted to see Victor recognized with this remarkable award from his colleagues and fellow scientists."
"Victor's pioneering discovery of microRNA occurred at a time when the field was not mentally prepared to understand its full significance. We now know that microRNAs have key functions in a variety of human diseases, ranging from hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol) to cancer," said Terence R. Flotte, MD, executive deputy chancellor, provost, and dean of the School of Medicine.
Since the discovery of microRNAs in 1993, these regulatory molecules have been implicated in a wide range of both normal and pathological activities including embryonic development, blood-cell specialization, muscle function, heart disease and viral infections. Their discovery has opened new fields of research and has implications for the development of new therapeutic treatments and diagnostic tools.
Working independently, Dr. Ambros and Dr. Ruvkun led the groups that identified the first microRNA and the first microRNA target. Dr. Ambros' lab yielded the discovery of the first microRNA and Dr. Ruvkun's lab identified how that microRNA regulates its target messenger. Working together, they demonstrated that the microRNA inactivates its target through direct, base-pairing interactions. MicroRNAs have been linked to cancer and identified as regulators of numerous other developmental events in both plants and animals. As a result of this discovery, researchers are now exploring microRNAs for use in diagnosis and prognosis as well as potential therapies.