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Archive - Sep 6, 2017


Lasker Basic Medical Research Award 2017 Goes to Michael N. Hall for Discoveries Concerning Nutrient-Activated TOR Proteins and Their Central Role in the Metabolic Control of Cell Growth

The 2017 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors a scientist who discovered the nutrient-activated TOR proteins and their central role in the metabolic control of cell growth. By showing that the TOR system adjusts cell size in response to the availability of raw materials, Dr. Michael N. Hall (photo) (Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland) revealed an unanticipated linchpin of normal cell physiology. TOR balances constructive and destructive activities to match accumulation of cell mass with nutrient supply and other growth signals, such as hormones. Disruption of the TOR network contributes to numerous human illnesses, including diabetes and cancer, and has been implicated in a wide range of other age-related disorders. The story began in the late 1980s, when many researchers were studying the tightly choreographed process by which cells divide. Although scientists recognized that a cell must increase in content and size as part of this process, they were not focused on that aspect. Growth was thought to be spontaneous, so if raw materials such as amino acids and fatty acids were present, the thinking went, cells would manufacture macromolecules such as proteins and lipids. In this scenario, a growth regulator was unnecessary. At that time, Dr. Hall was studying how proteins cross the membrane barrier that separates the main body of the cell, or cytoplasm, from the nucleus, where genes reside. Toward that end, he was exploring how a certain class of drugs (called immunosuppressants) obstruct T-cell activation, the process by which these immune cells rev up and proliferate. Scientists knew that these drugs somehow block transmission of a signal that travels into the nucleus to turn on certain genes.

Discovery of Six Gene Regions Linked to Preterm Birth Described in Landmark Study Published in NEJM; Results Based on Data from More Than 50,000 Women

A massive DNA analysis of pregnant women has identified six gene regions that influence the length of pregnancy and the timing of birth. The findings, published online on September 6, 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine, may lead to new ways to prevent preterm birth and its consequences -- the leading cause of death among children under age 5 worldwide. The NEJM article is titled “Genetic Associations with Gestational Duration and Spontaneous Preterm Birth.” The study, coordinated by Louis Muglia, MD, PhD, Co-Director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children's and principal investigator of the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center--Ohio Collaborative, together with Bo Jacobsson, MD, PhD, of Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, involved data from more than 50,000 women. The globe-spanning team included first author Ge Zhang, MD, PhD, of the Division of Human Genetics at Cincinnati Children's, along with researchers from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Yale University, the University of Iowa, and the genetic testing company 23andMe. Vital funding was provided by the March of Dimes, the National Institutes of Health, The Research Council of Norway, Swedish Research Council and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center--Ohio Collaborative, launched in 2013, is responsible for the gene identification component of the network of five Prematurity Research Centers nationwide established by the March of Dimes to identify the unknown causes of preterm birth. Because preterm birth is a complex disorder with many possible causes, other Prematurity Research Centers are charged with exploring different aspects of preterm birth and how to prevent it.