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Yale geneticist wins Wiley Prize for hypertension research

Medicine@Yale, 2008 - May June


Scientist is lauded for identifying many genes that control blood pressure

Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D., chair and Sterling Professor of Genetics, an internationally known expert on the genetic basis of hypertension, has received the seventh annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences, which honors scientific contributions that demonstrate significant leadership and innovation. The prize is given by the Wiley Foundation, established in 2001 by John Wiley & Sons, a 200-year-old publisher of scientific, technical and medical books and online services.

Lifton, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was recognized by the foundation for his discovery of genes that cause many forms of high and low blood pressure by affecting how the kidneys regulate the body’s salt balance. The award, which includes a $35,000 cash prize, was presented on April 4 at The Rockefeller University in New York City.

Günter Blobel, M.D., chair of the awards jury and winner of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1999, cited the clinical relevance of Lifton’s research. “Dr. Lifton’s findings highlight the importance of dietary salt in the causation of hypertension, a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death worldwide,” said Blobel, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Rockefeller University.

“Rick Lifton’s research has demonstrated unequivocally the importance of renal salt handling in the regulation of blood pressure,” says Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine. “While hypertension can be due to over-constriction of blood vessels or abnormal salt handling by the kidney, Rick has found, in multiple genetic causes of high and low blood pressure, that the etiology resides in the kidney. These findings have settled a controversy that persisted for much of the 20th century.”

Past Wiley Prize recipients include Nobel Prize-winning scientists Andrew Z. Fire, Ph.D., Craig C. Mello, Ph.D., and H. Robert Horvitz, Ph.D. Last year the School of Medicine’s Arthur Horwich, M.D., was a joint recipient of the prize for his research detailing molecular machinery that guides proteins into their proper functional shape, work that is important in research on neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.