January 23, 2024

Salk Institute Professor Ronald Evans honored with Japan Prize

Salk News

Salk Institute Professor Ronald Evans honored with Japan Prize

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Ronald Evans has been named the 2024 recipient of the Japan Prize in the field of Medical Science and Pharmaceutical Science. The Japan Prize Foundation awards this prestigious international award annually to “express Japan’s gratitude to international society.”

"I am delighted to extend my congratulations to Ron for this well-deserved recognition in honor of his discovery of nuclear hormone receptors,” says Salk President Gerald Joyce. “This accomplishment not only reflects the exceptional caliber of Ron’s research but also underscores the many important contributions he has made to society."

The Japan Prize Foundation honors individuals whose original and outstanding achievements in science and technology have advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for humankind. To date, 108 laureates from 14 countries have received the Japan Prize since the first prize was given in 1985. Each laureate receives a certificate of merit, a commemorative medal, and a monetary prize.

Ronald Evans
Ronald Evans
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Credit: Salk Institute

Evans is a professor, the director of the Gene Expression Laboratory, and the March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology at Salk. His receipt of the Japan Prize recognizes his groundbreaking discovery of nuclear hormone receptors—a large family of molecules that respond to various steroid hormones, vitamin A, and thyroid hormones. These hormones help control sugar, salt, calcium, and fat metabolism, affecting our daily health, as well as treatment of disease. The receptors Evans discovered are now primary targets in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and leukemia, as well as osteoporosis and asthma, and more than a dozen approved drugs have been developed using his technology to treat those conditions and more.

As the Japan Prize highlights, Evans continues to make impressive discoveries that improve our scientific understanding of the human body. In 2023, Evans made a number of new discoveries regarding pancreatic and colorectal cancer. In a collaborative study with UC San Diego, he found that high-fat diets can change gut bacteria and alter digestive molecules called bile acids that are modified by those bacteria, predisposing mice to colorectal cancer. In another study, he identified a new set of molecules that fuel the growth of tumors in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer. Most recently, he discovered how a class of anti-cancer drugs called HDAC inhibitors can suppress pancreatic cancer inflammation and “turbo charge” therapeutic response.

"I am deeply honored and humbled to receive the Japan Prize and acknowledge all the colleagues and collaborators that made this possible,” says Evans. “This accolade reinforces our commitment to advancing science along with the translational impact of our research, including more than a dozen approved drugs developed for treating conditions such as leukemia, cancer, liver disease, diabetes, and hypertension. I look forward to continuing this amazing journey to lead research with impact that extends beyond the lab to help improve human health."

Evans earned his BA in bacteriology and PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University. He has received such accolades as the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Keio Medical Science Prize, the Asan Award in Basic Medicine, and the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award, among many others. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the US National Academy of Medicine.

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