Clients in the News – University of Washington and UCSF Researchers Earn Medical Prizes for Cancer Findings in Parkinson’s

LaskerKey discoveries about breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease and the body’s handling of defective proteins have earned prestigious medical awards for five scientists.

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced the winners Monday. Each prize includes a $250,000 honorarium. The awards will be presented Sept. 19 in New York.

The Lasker award for clinical medical research will be shared by Drs. Mahlon DeLong of Emory Univ. in Atlanta and Alim Louis Benabid of Joseph Fourier Univ. in Grenoble, France, for developing a surgical treatment for Parkinson’s disease. In work that began in the late 1960s, DeLong traced Parkinson symptoms to overactivity in a specific part of the brain. Benabid, following up on that research independently, showed in 1995 that stimulating this area with a surgically implanted electrode could ease some Parkinson symptoms.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved that approach for treating advanced Parkinson’s disease in 2002. More than 100,000 people worldwide have received the therapy, the Lasker foundation said.

The award for special achievement in medical science will go to Mary-Claire King of the Univ. of Washington in Seattle. In 1990, King identified a region of human DNA that contains the BRCA1 gene, which gives a heightened risk of developing breast cancer if mutated. That led to the isolation of the gene itself, paving the way for identifying women who’ve inherited a mutated version so they can be monitored and counseled.

King also came up with a way to screen women for a number of other genes that predispose women to breast or ovarian cancer, or both. She also used her genetic expertise to help find children in Argentina who’d been kidnapped as infants or born while their mothers were in prison during the military regime of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her work has also been used to help identify victims of mass disasters and soldiers who were missing in action.

The Lasker award for basic medical research will be shared by Peter Walter of the Univ. of California, San Francisco, and Kazutoshi Mori of Kyoto Univ. in Japan. They made key discoveries about how cells detect and deal with their proteins that have not been folded correctly, which can make them harmful. The research has shed light on certain inherited diseases, including cystic fibrosis, the foundation said.

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