Since 1945 the Lasker Awards have honored those whose insights have led to disease prevention and prolongation of life. Associated with an honorarium of $250,000, seventy eight Lasker Laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.
This year, the Basic Medical Research award went to Franz-Ulrich Hartl (Max Planck Institute) and Arthur L. Horwich (Yale) for their work in protein folding. Specifically, they were involved in work with chaperonins and the cage-like mechanism by which proteins are folded and unfolded by other proteins. Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are thought to have abnormal protein aggregation as an etiology, so adjusting the activity of these “chaperones” may play a role in future therapies for these disorders.
The Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award went to Tu Yoyou for the discovery of artemisinin, a malaria drug that has saved millions of lives. The World Health Organization has been crusading against malaria most ambitiously since the 1950’s, but the effort has been frustrated by chloroquine-resistant parasites. In a fascinating story involving covert Chinese government operations and ancient folk remedies, Tu Yoyou found a reference in a 2000-year old text to an herb that could treat malaria. They extracted the active component and named it Qinghaosu (commonly called artemisinin in the West), and this substance has proven to be remarkably effective against many different types of malaria, saving countless lives.
These awards represent an interesting mix of modern scientific analysis and application of ancient principles, all for the common good. See the link below for the full details of these inspiring scientists’ work.
Press release: 2011 LASKER AWARDS HONOR MEDICAL RESEARCH PIONEERS