Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Former math olympian shares the biggest prize in medicine

In 1974, Eric Lander was a high school student in New York State. Thanks to the advocacy of Professor Nura Turner from what is now the University at Albany (then called Albany State Teachers' College), he had the opportunity to be on the first US team to represent our country at the International Math Olympiad, where he won a silver medal.

Now he is the President of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Today's Albany Times Union reports that he won a share of the biggest prize in medicine in this country:

ALBANY -- Three scientists who led the effort to map the human genome will receive the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. The prize winners were announced today by James J. Barba, president of Albany Medical Center and chairman of the prize selection committee.

The winners are David Botstein, PhD., director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University; Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health; and Eric Steven Lander, PhD., president of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The researchers will share the $500,000 prize, the largest award in medicine in the United States. They will receive the prize on April 23 during a ceremony at Albany Medical Center.

The three scientists are responsible for proposing the idea of mapping the human genome, discovering the techniques to carry it out and managing the project to completion.

Botstein, a geneticist, was among the first to propose the concept of building a complete genetic map of humans. In 1980, he and three colleagues described how to make a detailed map of the genetic diseases caused by just one gene. His idea and mapping techniques laid the groundwork for the project.

Lander, a mathematician, developed advanced gene-mapping techniques and, in 1987, described how to map complex multi-gene diseases like diabetes and heart disease. His lab was a leading contributor to the project.

Collins, a physician and biologist, developed a technique for identifying particular disease-related genes known as positional cloning. With collaborators, he made the landmark 1989 discovery of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis. In 1993, Collins was named director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health and oversaw the Human Genome Project to its completion in 2003.

If you're curious about his path from mathematics to biology, check out this New York Times article.

No comments: