Bioethics Blogs

Lasker Award goes to breast-cancer researcher

Posted on behalf of Mark Zastrow. 

The 2014 Albert Lasker Special Achievement Award has been awarded to the geneticist Mary-Claire King. King, of the University of Washington in Seattle, is the leader of the team that discovered the BRCA genes, mutations of which are linked to breast cancer. King’s team found that the 10% of women affected by such mutations have nearly an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. The rush to develop tests for the mutations triggered a legal dispute in the United States that ended with a US Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the patenting of naturally-occurring genes.

King was also recognized for her contributions to human rights in developing DNA analysis to prove genetic relationships. These have have been used to find the “lost children” of Argentina — kidnapped and separated from their biological families as infants — and identify the remains of soldiers missing-in-action and disaster victims.

Other winners of this year’s Lasker awards, often referred to as “the American Nobels”, include molecular biologists Kazutoshi Mori of Kyoto University in Japan and Peter Walter of the University of California in San Francisco, in the category for Basic Medical Research. They independently uncovered how cells correct proteins that are improperly folded by activating the transcription of certain genes.

The winners for Clinical Medical Research were neurologists Alim Louis Benabid of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France and Mahlon R. DeLong of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta for their work in high-frequency deep brain stimulation. By targeting an area of the brain involved in motor functions called the subthalamic nucleus, they found the technique could be used to treat those with Parkinson’s disease to alleviate tremors and motor problems.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.