This year, the most prestigious medical awards in the United States have been given to two stem cell researchers, three cancer researchers, and one New York City mayor. Each year, the three prestigious Lasker Awards are given to those who have made great progress in combatting human disease, and they come with a prize of $250,000 in each category. They are sometimes called “America’s Nobels,” in part because 76 Lasker laureates have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize [USA Today].
The basic medical research prize went to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka; although their breakthroughs were separated by 50 years, both researchers’ work led to the current technique of turning ordinary skin cells into multipurpose stem cells. Lasker Foundation president Maria Freire explains that Gurdon’s work showed that the nucleus of every cell retains a latent ability to become any other cell type and Yamanaka showed how that capacity can be unleashed…. “These two pieces of research allow us to understand different aspects of stem cells,” she said. “I think it could lead to personalized replacement therapy to fix cells or damaged tissue” [Bloomberg].
The award for clinical medical research went to three researchers–Brian Druker, Nicholas Lydon, and Charles Sawyers–who developed a drug called Gleevec, which transformed a fatal type of leukemia into a manageable condition. “At one point they witnessed something no oncologist had seen before: Patients on the edge of death were climbing out of bed and leaving the hospital within one week of their first Gleevec dose,” the foundation said [AP].
Finally, the public service award was given to Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, who pushed through bans on smoking in restaurants, bars, and other public places, and also imposed higher taxes on cigarettes. The result, said the Lasker Foundation, is that 300,000 fewer New Yorkers smoke than in 2002, when Bloomberg took office [Bloomberg]. Bloomberg also banned the use of artery-clogging trans fats in New York City’s restaurants and fast food outlets.
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