Honored. The 2005 Lasker Award recipients. Top row (L-R): Ernest McCullough, James Till. Middle row (L-R): Edwin Southern, Alec Jeffreys. Bottom row: Nancy Brinker.

Work on Stem Cells, DNA Tools Honored

Four medical research pioneers, working in disciplines from stem cell biology to genetic sequencing and forensics, are the 2005 recipients of the Albert Lasker Awards. A fifth Lasker prize, for public service in support of medical research, went to a breast cancer advocate.

Ernest McCulloch and James Till, both of the University of Toronto in Canada, will share the Lasker Award for basic medical research for discovering the first stem cell. During the 1950s, McCulloch and Till were investigating the effects of ionizing radiation on mammals when they discovered that new blood cells formed in irradiated mice injected with fresh bone marrow. Later, they showed that a single cell in the blood system could not only self-renew but also could differentiate into all three types of mature blood cells: red cells, white cells, and platelets. Their groundbreaking work formed the basis for all current research on adult and embryonic stem cells.

The award for clinical medical research is shared by biochemist Edwin Southern of the University of Oxford and geneticist Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester. In the mid-1970s, Southern and Jeffreys each created a powerful new biotechnology that, together, led to the mapping of the human genome and paved the way for genetic fingerprinting.

Southern invented the eponymous "blotting" technique that rapidly pinpoints a particular gene within a genome, and he also devised microarrays of DNA sequences, allowing researchers to conduct multiple genetic experiments in parallel. Jeffreys built on Southern's discovery by developing a test to search for key patterns of repeated DNA sequences in the human genome. Using a radioactively tagged DNA strand, Jeffreys could scan the genome for a unique arrangement of sequences comprising a genetic "fingerprint." That technology is now used to solve crimes and paternity suits, address ecological and anthropological questions, and determine medical histories.

Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, receives the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and the Health Sciences. Brinker founded the organization in 1982, 2 years after her sister's death from the disease. Brinker has survived a battle with the disease herself. The Komen Foundation, which has to date raised more than $750 million, is now the largest private funder of breast cancer research in the United States.

Recipients of the scientific awards will each receive $25,000; the public service award includes no monetary prize. The awards will be presented in New York City on 23 September.

Related site:
The Lasker Foundation