Elledge will be honored for his breakthroughs in gene therapy techniques that could correct birth defects and hereditary diseases.
Stephen Elledge has made astonishing breakthroughs in the field of gene research. On Tuesday, he was rewarded for his efforts with the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the highest American honor for a scientist.
The work of the Harvard geneticist produced profound insights into how DNA repairs itself, opening the doors to gene therapy techniques that could correct birth defects and hereditary diseases.
“[Elledge’s] insights into the basic mechanisms of the DNA damage response have profoundly enriched our understanding not only of the fundamental genetics of all cellular life, but also of how we conceptualize many diseases and conditions, especially cancer,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School.
As the cells divide and multiple in an embryo, the DNA must be precisely copied. Birth defects are largely caused by mistakes or typos in the coping process. Later on in life, such mistakes in DNA replication can cause cancer and symptoms of aging.
Elledge discovered a sequence of events, called a pathway, that protects cells that have had their DNA damaged by incorrect coping.
“It’s nice to be recognized and have . . . the really creative people who’ve worked with me over the years get recognition,” said Elledge.
Elledge has been working with DNA since the 1980s when he was a postdoctoral student at Stanford. He received his PhD from MIT.
There are three other recipients of the Lasker prize this year. Evelyn Witkin of Rutgers University will honored for decades of work studying the DNA repair systems in bacteria.
James P. Allsion from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for his work in immunology that has resulted in a number of cancer treatments that employ the immune system to combat the tumors.
Finally, Médecins sans Frontiéres (Doctors without Borders) will receive the award in honor of the charity’s tireless efforts in the struggle against Ebola in West Africa.
Many who receive the Lasker prize go on to receive Nobel Prizes.