Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, is the fifth UCSF scientist to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Yamanaka is a busy man. He is a senior investigator and the L.K. Whittier Foundation Investigator in Stem Cell Biology at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, a professor of anatomy at UCSF, director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) and a principal investigator at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS), both at Kyoto University, Japan.
Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She shared the award with Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Jack W. Szostak of Harvard Medical School. The scientists discovered an enzyme that plays a key role in normal cell function, as well as in cell aging and most cancers. The enzyme is called telomerase and it produces tiny units of DNA that seal off the ends of chromosomes, which contain the body’s genes. These DNA units – named telomeres – protect the integrity of the genes and maintain chromosomal stability and accurate cell division. They also determine the number of times a cell divides — and thus determine the lifespan of cells.
The scientists’ research sparked a whole field of inquiry into the possibility that telomerase could be reactivated to treat such age-related diseases as blindness, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases, and deactivated to treat cancer, in which it generally is overactive.
Stanley B. Prusiner, MD, received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of a novel disease-causing agent — a protein he named prion (PREE-on). The prion causes rare neurodegenerative diseases, such as Creutzfeldt Jakob disease in humans, and “mad cow” disease in cattle. The discovery has informed research into the role of misprocessed proteins in more common brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
J. Michael Bishop, MD, received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his co-discovery with Harold Varmus, MD, of proto-oncogenes, showing that normal cellular genes can be converted to cancer genes. This work led to the recognition that all cancer probably arises from damage to normal genes and provided new strategies for the detection and treatment of cancer. In his 40 years of service to UCSF, including 10 as chancellor at UCSF, Bishop has provided a model of distinguished scholarly inquiry, thoughtful academic leadership and deep commitment to the public good.
Harold E. Varmus, MD, received the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his co-discovery with J. Michael Bishop, MD, of proto-oncogenes, showing that normal cellular genes can be converted to cancer genes. This work led to the recognition that all cancer probably arises from damage to normal genes and provided new strategies for the detection and treatment of cancer.
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