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Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

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  • Demis Hassabis
    Demis Hassabis CBE FRS FREng FRSA is a British artificial intelligence researcher, neuroscientist, computer game designer, entrepreneur, and world-class games player.* From , accessed 19 May 2018.
  • Katalin Karikó (photo: Szegedi Tudományegyetem)
    Katalin Karikó, 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
    Katalin Karikó (Hungarian: Karikó Katalin, pronounced [%CB%88k%C9%92riko%CB%90 ˌkɒtɒlin]; born 17 January 1955) is a Hungarian-American biochemist who specializes in RNA-mediated mechanisms. Her resear...
  • Cornelia (Cori) Isabella Bargmann
    Cornelia Isabella "Cori" Bargmann (born 1961) is an American neurobiologist. She is known for her work on the genetic and neural circuit mechanisms of behavior using C. elegans, particularly the mechan...
  • Zhijian “James” Chen (photo: HHMI)
    Zhijian James Chen
    Zhijian "James" Chen (Chinese: 陈志坚; pinyin: Chén Zhìjiān; born 1966) is a Chinese-American biochemist and Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Ce...
  • Xiaowei Zhuang (photo: HHMI)
    Xiaowei Zhuang
    Xiaowei Zhuang (simplified Chinese: 庄小威; traditional Chinese: 莊小威; pinyin: Zhuāng Xiǎowēi; born January 1972) is a Chinese-American biophysicist who is the David B. Arnold Jr. Professor of Science, Pro...

BREAKTHROUGH PRIZE IN LIFE SCIENCES

In the fifty years between the discovery of the double helix and the decoding of the human genome, we have undergone a revolution in our understanding of life. Since then the rate of discoveries has accelerated, and this rapid progress looks set to continue. Armed with new knowledge and new technologies, fields like genetics, molecular biology, oncology and neurology are now making real strides. Not just in describing how cells and organs function but in fighting some of the most deadly diseases.

The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.

The award of $3 million, the largest award in the sciences, honours transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life. The Breakthrough Prize trophy was created by Olafur Eliasson.

The prize was founded in 2013. It is sponsored by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Pony Ma, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. The ceremony takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area, with the symposiums alternating between University of California, Berkeley, University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford University.

Laureates

2024:

  • Carl June and Michel Sadelain genetically engineered T cells – key players in the body’s immune system – with synthetic receptors termed chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) to instruct T cells to recognize the cancer cells of individual patients.
  • Sabine Hadida, Paul Negulescu and Fredrick Van Goor invented the first effective medicines to treat the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis.
  • Thomas Gasser, Ellen Sidransky and Andrew Singleton discovered the most common genetic causes of Parkinson’s Disease.

2023:

  • Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman for discovering a new mechanism of cellular organization;
  • Demis Hassabis CBE FREng FRSA and John Jumper for developing AlphaFold, which accurately predicts the structure of proteins; and to
  • Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa for discovering the causes of narcolepsy.

2022:

  • Jeffery W. Kelly, Scripps Research Institute, "for elucidating the molecular basis of neurodegenerative and cardiac transthyretin diseases, and for developing tafamidis, a drug that slows their progression".
  • Katalin Karikó, BioNTech and University of Pennsylvania and Drew Weissman, University of Pennsylvania, "for engineering modified RNA technology which enabled rapid development of effective COVID-19 vaccines".
  • Shankar Balasubramanian, University of Cambridge, David Klenerman, University of Cambridge and Pascal Mayer, Alphanosos, "for the development of a robust and affordable method to determine DNA sequences on a massive scale, which has transformed the practice of science and medicine".

2021:

  • David Baker, University of Washington and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for developing technology that allowed the design of proteins never seen before in nature, including novel proteins that have the potential for therapeutic intervention in human diseases.
  • Catherine Dulac, Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for deconstructing the complex behavior of parenting to the level of cell-types and their wiring, and demonstrating that the neural circuits governing both male and female-specific parenting behaviors are present in both sexes.
  • Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, for discovering that fetal DNA is present in maternal blood and can be used for the prenatal testing of trisomy 21 and other genetic disorders.
  • Richard J. Youle, National Institutes of Health, for elucidating a quality control pathway that clears damaged mitochondria and thereby protects against Parkinson’s Disease.

2020:

  • Jeffrey M. Friedman, Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for the discovery of a new endocrine system through which adipose tissue signals the brain to regulate food intake.
  • F. Ulrich Hartl, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Munich, for discovering functions of molecular chaperones in mediating protein folding and preventing protein aggregation.
  • Arthur L. Horwich, Yale School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for discovering functions of molecular chaperones in mediating protein folding and preventing protein aggregation.
  • David Julius, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2021 University of California, San Francisco, for discovering molecules, cells, and mechanisms underlying pain sensation.
  • Virginia M.-Y. Lee, University of Pennsylvania, for discovering TDP43 protein aggregates in frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and revealing that different forms of alpha-synuclein, in different cell types, underlie Parkinson’s disease and Multiple System Atrophy.

2019:

  • C. Frank Bennett, Ionis Pharmaceuticals, Carlsbad, for the development of an effective antisense oligonucleotide therapy for children with the neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy.
  • Adrian R. Krainer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, for the development of an effective antisense oligonucleotide therapy for children with the neurodegenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy.
  • Angelika Amon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, for determining the consequences of aneuploidy, an abnormal chromosome number resulting from chromosome mis-segregation.
  • Xiaowei Zhuang, Harvard University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for discovering hidden structures in cells by developing super-resolution imaging – a method that transcends the fundamental spatial resolution limit of light microscopy.
  • Zhijian James Chen, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dallas, for elucidating how DNA triggers immune and autoimmune responses from the interior of a cell through the discovery of the DNA-sensing enzyme cGAS.

2018:

  • Joanne Chory, Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for discovering how plants optimize their growth, development, and cellular structure to transform sunlight into chemical energy.
  • Peter Walter, University of California, San Francisco and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for elucidating the unfolded protein response, a cellular quality-control system that detects disease-causing unfolded proteins and directs cells to take corrective measures.
  • Kazutoshi Mori, Kyoto University, for elucidating the unfolded protein response, a cellular quality-control system that detects disease-causing unfolded proteins and directs cells to take corrective measures.
  • Kim Nasmyth, University of Oxford, for elucidating the sophisticated mechanism that mediates the perilous separation of duplicated chromosomes during cell division and thereby prevents genetic diseases such as cancer.
  • Don W. Cleveland, University of California, San Diego, for elucidating the molecular pathogenesis of a type of inherited ALS, including the role of glia in neurodegeneration, and for establishing antisense oligonucleotide therapy in animal models of ALS and Huntington disease.

2017:

  • Stephen J. Elledge, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for elucidating how eukaryotic cells sense and respond to damage in their DNA and providing insights into the development and treatment of cancer.
  • Harry F. Noller, University of California, Santa Cruz, for discovering the centrality of RNA in forming the active centers of the ribosome, the fundamental machinery of protein synthesis in all cells, thereby connecting modern biology to the origin of life and also explaining how many natural antibiotics disrupt protein synthesis.
  • Roeland Nusse, Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for pioneering research on the Wnt pathway, one of the crucial intercellular signaling systems in development, cancer and stem cell biology.
  • Yoshinori Ohsumi Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2016, Tokyo Institute of Technology, for elucidating autophagy, the recycling system that cells use to generate nutrients from their own inessential or damaged components.
  • Huda Yahya Zoghbi, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for discoveries of the genetic causes and biochemical mechanisms of spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome, findings that have provided insight into the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative and neurological diseases.

2016:

  • Edward S. Boyden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Karl Deisseroth, Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for the development and implementation of optogenetics – the programming of neurons to express light-activated ion channels and pumps, so that their electrical activity can be controlled by light.
  • John Hardy FRS, University College London, for discovering mutations in the amyloid precursor protein (APP) gene that cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease, linking accumulation of APP-derived beta-amyloid peptide to Alzheimer’s pathogenesis and inspiring new strategies for disease prevention.
  • Helen H. Hobbs, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for the discovery of human genetic variants that alter the levels and distribution of cholesterol and other lipids, inspiring new approaches to the prevention of cardiovascular and liver disease.
  • Svante Pääbo, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, for pioneering the sequencing of ancient DNA and ancient genomes, thereby illuminating the origins of modern humans, our relationships to extinct relatives such as Neanderthals, and the evolution of human populations and traits.

2015:

  • Alim-Louis Benabid, Joseph Fourier University, for the discovery and pioneering work on the development of high-frequency deep brain stimulation (DBS), which has revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
  • C. David Allis, The Rockefeller University, for the discovery of covalent modifications of histone proteins and their critical roles in the regulation of gene expression and chromatin organization, advancing the understanding of diseases ranging from birth defects to cancer.
  • Victor Ambros, University of Massachusetts Medical School, for the discovery of a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets.
  • Gary Ruvkun, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, for the discovery of a new world of genetic regulation by microRNAs, a class of tiny RNA molecules that inhibit translation or destabilize complementary mRNA targets.
  • Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020, University of California, Berkeley, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and
  • Emmanuelle Charpentier, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020, Helmholtz Center for Infection Research and Umeå University, for harnessing an ancient mechanism of bacterial immunity into a powerful and general technology for editing genomes, with wide-ranging implications across biology and medicine.

2014:

  • James P. Allison, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2018 (M. D. Anderson Cancer Center), for the discovery of T cell checkpoint blockade as effective cancer therapy.
  • Mahlon DeLong (b. 1938) (Emory University), for defining the interlocking circuits in the brain that malfunction in Parkinson's disease. This scientific foundation underlies the circuit-based treatment of Parkinson's disease by deep brain stimulation.
  • Michael N. Hall (Biozentrum University of Basel), for the discovery of Target of Rapamycin (TOR) and its role in cell growth control.
  • Robert Langer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), for discoveries leading to the development of controlled drug-release systems and new biomaterials.
  • Richard P. Lifton (b. 1953) (Yale University School of Medicine at Yale University), for the discovery of genes and biochemical mechanisms that cause hypertension.
  • Alexander Varshavsky (California Institute of Technology), for discovering critical molecular determinants and biological functions of intracellular protein degradation.

2013:

  • Cornelia I. Bargmann (B. 1961) (Rockefeller University), for the genetics of neural circuits and behavior, and synaptic guidepost molecules.
  • David Botstein (b. 1942) (Princeton University), for linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using DNA polymorphisms.
  • Lewis C. Cantley (b. 1949) (Harvard Medical School, Weill Cornell Medical College), for the discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism.
  • Hans Clevers (b. 1957) (Hubrecht Institute), for describing the role of Wnt signaling in tissue stem cells and cancer.
  • Titia de Lange (b. 1955) (Rockefeller University), for research on telomeres, illuminating how they protect chromosome ends and their role in genome instability in cancer.
  • Napoleone Ferrara (b. 1957) (University of California, San Diego), for discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.
  • Eric S. Lander (b. 1957) (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Broad Institute), for the discovery of general principles for identifying human disease genes, and enabling their application to medicine through the creation and analysis of genetic, physical and sequence maps of the human genome.
  • Charles L. Sawyers (b. 1959) (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center), for cancer genes and targeted therapy.
  • Robert A. Weinberg (b. 1942) (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Whitehead Institute), for characterization of human cancer genes.
  • Shinya Yamanaka Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 (b. 1962) (Kyoto University, J. David Gladstone Institutes, University of California, San Francisco), for induced pluripotent stem cells.
  • Bert Vogelstein (b. 1949) (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Johns Hopkins University), for cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes.