March 18, 2021
LA JOLLA—Salk Professor Ronald Evans, director of Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory and March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology, has been awarded the 2021 Asan Award in Basic Medicine by the Asan Foundation.
The Asan Foundation is a Korean foundation that supports critical medical research as well as social and medical welfare programs. The award, which totals $250,000, recognizes “medical scientists who have achieved remarkable accomplishments in the fields of basic and clinical medicine to promote human health,” according to the Asan Foundation. Evans is the first international recipient of the Asan Award in Basic Medicine.
“We are thrilled that the Asan Foundation is recognizing Ron’s considerable contributions to medical science,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “His work has provided invaluable insights into numerous physiological processes enabling the development of novel treatments for diabetes, cancer, and other metabolic diseases.”
Evans is known for discovering a “superfamily” of 48 genes called nuclear hormone receptors that respond to steroid hormones along with thyroid hormone and vitamins A and D. While this revealed receptors for 7 known hormones, the discovery uncovered 39 more receptors involved in previously unknown physiologic pathways. This advance launched the modern era of molecular endocrinology, finding receptors for cellular growth, development, inflammation, cancer, diabetes, circadian rhythm, cholesterol metabolism, and even the creation of new brain cells. By establishing unique connections between genes and hormone activity, his work has revolutionized the fields of endocrinology and metabolism and led to the invention of novel classes of drugs that treat disease by targeting genes.
He is also a pioneer in identifying exercise mimetics, molecules sometimes collectively called “exercise in a pill.” Exercise mimetics confer the benefits of fitness without training by tricking the body into thinking it has consumed calories and causing it to burn fat. These molecules have the potential to lower inflammation, promote weight loss, lower blood sugar and enhance memory.
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, and the Keio Medical Science Prize, among many others. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
“Receiving the Asan Award in Basic Medicine was an unexpected surprise and a singular honor,” says Evans. “I am grateful to be the first international recipient of this prestigious award, which makes it especially memorable.”
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