September 26, 2004
La Jolla, CA – Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D. known for his discoveries of genetic switches that link hormones to gene control, is this year’s recipient of the highly prestigious 2004 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced today.
Dr. Evans is a professor at the Salk Institute Gene Expression Laboratory, where in 1985 he isolated the first of a series of gene control switches that have widespread medical significance for the understanding and treatment of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and inflammation. He is also an Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and holds the March of Dimes Chair in Developmental and Molecular Biology.
Beginning in 1985 Evans discovered the first piece of a genetic puzzle whose full picture would change our view of body physiology. “Our initial discovery came by literally sifting through millions of genetic fragments, it was the true needle in the hay stack”, Evans said. “The first receptor was like a telescope allowing us to peer into the genome revealing a new universe of gene switches.”
Professor Evans shares the 2004 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research with Pierre Chambon of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology and Elwood V. Jensen of the University of Chicago for their combined “discovery of the superfamily of nuclear hormone receptors and the elucidation of a unifying mechanism that regulates embryonic development and diverse metabolic pathways.”
The Lasker Awards, first presented in 1946, are often considered the nation’s highest recognition for basic medical research and are widely regarded as a strong predictor of future Nobel Prize winners. The awards will be presented at a luncheon ceremony Friday, October 1 at the Pierre Hotel in New York City.
“Ron Evans’ pioneering studies on hormone receptors and gene regulation makes him one of the world’s leading biomedical researchers, and the Lasker Award underscores both the basic and medical importance of his work,” said Dr. Richard Murphy, President of the Salk Institute. “As we approach the Salk Institute’s 40-year commitment to basic research in the life sciences, the improvement of human health and conditions, and the training of future generations of researchers we are especially proud that Ron Evans has rightfully earned this award.”
Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, Chairman of the international jury of researchers that selects recipients of the Lasker Awards, said Evans, Chambon and Jensen are being honored for work that created a field of research, which now occupies a large area of biological and medical investigation.
“Most importantly, the winners revealed the unexpected and unifying mechanism through which hormones can control body metabolism, embryonic development and reproduction,” Dr. Goldstein said. “Evans’ and Chambon’s discovery of these receptors, revealed a hidden regulatory logic that allows the body to control sugar and salt balance and to respond to essential nutrients and hormonal lipids such as fatty acids and cholesterol. They discovered a family of proteins that allows chemicals as diverse as steroid hormones, Vitamin A, and thyroid hormone to perform in the body. Their work provides a blueprint for the development of drugs for many medical problems including inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.” Dr. Evans earned a B.A., Bacteriology, from the University of California, Los Angeles, was awarded a Ph.D., Microbiology and Immunology, UCLA, and was a Postdoctoral Fellow, Rockefeller University.
Often called “America’s Nobels,” the Lasker Award has been awarded to 68 scientists who subsequently went on to receive the Nobel Prize, including 15 in the last 10 years. Among Ron Evans’ other honors are membership in the National Academy of Science, Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; he is a recipient of the California Scientist of the Year Award, 1994; the General Motors Sloan Award for Cancer Research, and the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. The Institute for Scientific Information lists him the most referenced researcher in 1997 and among the top ten most cited scientists of the last 20 years.
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, located in La Jolla, California, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health and conditions, and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., founded the institute in 1960 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation. Ron Evans will be the sixth Lasker Awardee associated with the Salk Institute, which has been home to 11 Nobel Prize Laureates. Five Nobel Prize winners trained at the Salk Institute; three of the Institutes current resident members and three nonresident members are Nobel Laureates.
Today the Salk Institute conducts its biological research under the guidance of 56 faculty investigators, employing a scientific staff of more than 850, including visiting scientists, some 285 postdoctoral trainees, about 130 graduate and rotation students and more than 90 undergraduate students. The Salk Institute’s major areas of study have focused on molecular biology and genetics, the neurosciences, and plant biology. For additional information visit the Salk Institute for Biological Studies website at www.salk.edu.