Stephen Elledge, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School and 1991 Pew scholar, has been named co-winner of the 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his groundbreaking work to uncover how cells respond to damaged DNA. First given in 1945, the Lasker Award is considered one of the world’s highest scientific honors and is given to scientists who have made significant contributions to the “understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure, and prevention of human disease.”
Elledge, who shares the prize with Evelyn Witkin of Rutgers University, discovered that cells have a massive signaling network for sensing and repairing DNA damage. Human cells encounter damaged DNA every day, and if the damage is not repaired quickly it can lead to mutations in genes that typically protect us from diseases such as cancer. Elledge’s work identified the mechanisms for response that keep our genes intact. Notably, many proteins identified in Elledge’s signaling network have since been connected to human diseases and his discoveries pave the way to a greater understanding of how these diseases occur.
Elledge is the fourth Pew scholar to receive the Lasker Award. Previous recipients are Roderick MacKinnon in 1999, Carol Greider in 2006, and Richard Scheller in 2013, all of whom have had a profound impact upon their fields of study. MacKinnon went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2003, and Greider was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009. Many Pew scholars garner recognition for their creative, high-risk/high-reward approach to biomedical research—and for pursuing projects that yield surprising and influential results. These scientists are just a few of the members of a remarkable community of scholars and fellows within the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Pew’s biomedical scholars program, which supports early-career biomedical researchers as they pursue lines of inquiry they might not otherwise be able to try—exactly the types of projects that often lead to groundbreaking discoveries. Watch an interview with the 2015 Lasker Award winners here.