Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, is one of the first two women scientists to receive the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, America’s top award in medicine. She shared the award with Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., FW ’77, Sc.D.H. ’91, the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. The two will share the $500,000 award. Now in its eighth year, the prize is the largest in medicine in the United States and the second largest in the world outside of the Nobel Prize.
Steitz is best known for her pioneering work in RNA. She discovered and defined the function of small ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) in pre-messenger RNA—the earliest product of DNA transcription—and was the first to learn that these cellular complexes (snRNPs) play a key role in processing messenger RNA by excising noncoding regions and splicing together the resulting segments. Her breakthroughs into the previously mysterious splicing process have clarified the science behind the formation of proteins and other biological processes, including the intricate changes that occur as the immune system and brain develop.
Steitz earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1967. After completing postdoctoral work in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale as an assistant professor and later became an associate and full professor, as well as chair of the department.