A pair of geneticists will receive one of the most prestigious awards in the field for their research on how DNA responds to internal damage.
Stephen J. Elledge, a professor of genetics and medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, along with Evelyn Witkin of Rutgers University won the 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. According to a report from the Harvard Gazette, the award is considered one of the most widely respected in the biomedical field.
On September 18, the pair will be honored for their groundbreaking research on DNA’s damage response, a series of chemical responses that respond to damage and protects cells. The research could yield great insights into the way cancer progresses throughout the body.
Elledge’s insights into the underlying mechanisms behind DNA’s ability to regulate and repair itself have created shockwaves throughout the biomedical community. Jeffrey S. Flier, the dean of the Harvard Medical School, agrees that the research conducted by Elledge and Witkin can lead to a wide range of future studies.
The research describes the way a cell duplicates in the same way a small city might develop. Many processes and reactions all come together to orchestrate the replication of a cell, and the instructions for doing so are written into DNA’s genetic code.
Sometimes, DNA can be damaged and the code will present an error. A small error is quickly corrected, but if DNA is overwhelmed by faulty cellular processes or environmental factors like toxic chemicals or radiation, it could begin to manifest serious illnesses and defects.
Witkin’s contribution described how bacteria reacted to DNA damage, focusing on their specific response to ultraviolet radiation. Understanding how DNA and other components in the cell react to damage will lead to decades worth of research that can begin to tackle the countless illnesses to which life is susceptible.