The inventors of kidney dialysis, the discoverers of cellular membrane trafficking, and a trailblazing gene regulation researcher have received the prestigious Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards for 2002. The Lasker awards honor outstanding contributions to basic and clinical medical research.
The award for Clinical Medical Research will be shared by Willem Kolff of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Belding Scribner of the University of Washington in Seattle. Laboring in the Netherlands under the constraints of Nazi occupation, Kolff developed the first kidney dialysis machine using sausage casings and spent his career refining the invention. Kolff's machine "cleans" a patient's blood by filtering out waste products. Scribner used Teflon to create a permanent shunt, enabling doctors to perform kidney dialysis as often as needed without traumatizing blood vessels. These two researchers changed kidney disease from a death sentence to a highly treatable condition, prolonging the useful lives of millions of people.
The award for Basic Medical Research will be shared by James Rothman of Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City and Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley. Rothman and Schekman discovered how cells package nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other chemicals in sacks called vesicles. The vesicles are then pinched off from the cells and absorbed through the membrane of other cells, effectively delivering the vesicle contents. This basic insight has helped to explain how pancreatic cells release insulin, how nerve cells communicate, and how viruses infect cells.
James Darnell of Rockefeller University in New York City will receive the Special Achievement in Medical Research award for both his scientific contributions and his success as an educator. More than 40 years ago, Darnell uncovered how messenger RNA copies bits of genetic code from a cell's DNA, and ultimately translates them into proteins. He also discovered how cells communicate the molecular context that enables each cell to function appropriately. Darnell has mentored and fostered the careers of more than 125 scientists, many of whom have gone on to make important contributions of their own.
Recipients of the Lasker awards will receive $25,000, an inscribed statuette, and a goodly share of fame. The Laskers have become a predictor for who will win the Nobel Prize. Sixty-five scientists of the 245 researchers who received Lasker awards subsequently received a Nobel.