Two National University of Singapore scientists win Lasker Awards for medical research

Two scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) - Professor Michael Sheetz, Director of the Mechanobiology Institute of Singapore; and Professor Roy Calne, Visiting Professor with the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine's Department of Surgery - have been conferred the prestigious Lasker Awards for making great advances in medical research.

Prof Sheetz, together with Professor James Spundich (Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California) and Professor Ronald Vale (University of California, San Francisco) will receive the 2012 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for discovering machine-like cytoskeletal motor proteins that transport cargoes within cells, contract muscles, and enable cell movements. The Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors scientists whose fundamental investigations have provided techniques, information, or concepts contributing to the elimination of major causes of disability and death.  

Prof Calne, together with Professor Thomas E. Starzl (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), will receive the 2012 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for developing life-saving liver transplantation techniques that has restored normal life to thousands of patients with end-stage liver disease. The Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors investigators whose contributions have improved the clinical treatment of patients.

Presented by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, the Lasker Awards - considered one of the most respected science prizes in the world - honour visionaries whose insight and perseverance have led to dramatic advances that will prevent disease and prolong life. Since the inception of the Lasker Awards in 1945, 81 Lasker laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, 29 in the last two decades.

Prof Sheetz said, "It is an honour to be recognised by the Lasker Foundation for the discoveries that I and colleagues made in the studies of cytoskeletal motor proteins, in particular Kinesin. Through these discoveries, it is hoped that these efforts can inspire the development of new paradigms and innovative approaches in understanding, and in some cases improving the treatment of, diseases such as cardiac problems and cancer."

"My fellow award recipients and I have always believed in an open culture for scientific exchange. An open laboratory concept encourages researchers of different disciplines to share ideas that speeds the rate of innovation and discovery. I am pleased to have the opportunity to put this idea to practice in Singapore at the Mechanobiology Institute Singapore (MBI) within NUS through the generosity of the Singapore Government award in 2009. I look forward to working with MBI's multi-disciplinary team of scientists in building our knowledge in basic cell and tissue functions and to improve our understanding of drug targets towards the goal of developing fundamentally new medical therapies," added Prof Sheetz. The MBI is a national-level Research Centre of Excellence jointly funded by the National Research Foundation and the Ministry of Education.

Prof Calne said, "I accept the Award from the Lasker Foundation with pleasure and gratitude. In 1950, as a medical student when I raised the possibility of grafting a kidney, I was told "it can't be done". More than six decades on, organ transplant is now well established and has become a routine procedure with improving results. I am delighted to share the award with Professor Thomas Starzl, who is a brilliant surgeon and a good friend. I am heartened to note that our work has contributed towards making organ transplant possible and improving the quality of life for transplant patients."

"On retirement I was fortunate to obtain a post in the National University of Singapore as a Visiting Professor and I moved my research interest from pancreas organ grafting to studies on gene and stem cell therapy aimed at treatment of diabetes. This work is part of a close collaboration with my colleagues Professor Lee Kok Onn, Head of the Division of Endocrinology at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine; and Professor Kon Oi Lian, Department of Biochemistry at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, with financial support from the Kidney Foundation of Singapore. We are slowly making progress in this area, collaborating with researchers from Egypt and the United Kingdom. It seems to me rather like organ transplantation was in 1950 where most people said it cannot be done but eventually they were proven wrong," added Prof Calne.

Source: National University of Singapore

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