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Three Yale alumni received Lasker Awards in September

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2007 - Winter


Three Yale alumni received Lasker Awards in September for outstanding research in medicine. For 61 years the Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards, among the most coveted in science, have honored scientists, physicians and public servants who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and cure of many of the great crippling and killing diseases of the 20th and 21st centuries.

This year’s recipients include Aaron T. Beck, M.D. ’46, who on September 17 received the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research, “for the development of cognitive therapy, which has transformed the understanding and treatment of many psychiatric conditions, including depression, suicidal behavior, generalized anxiety, panic attacks and eating disorders.”

Beck is university professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, where he joined the faculty in 1954. His initial research dealt with the psychoanalytic theories of depression, but he subsequently developed a different theoretical-clinical approach that he called cognitive therapy. Since 1959 he has directed research into the psychopathology of depression, suicide, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse and personality disorders, as well as the application of cognitive therapy to these disorders. His most recent work has focused on reducing the number of suicide attempts among chronic attempters and patients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

The two other Yale alumni to receive Lasker awards were colleagues here in the 1970s.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., FW ’77, Sc.D.H. ’91, the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, shared in the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. She won the award, along with Carol W. Greider, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins, and Jack W. Szostak, Ph.D., of Harvard, for the prediction and discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that contains RNA and synthesizes the ends of chromosomes, protecting them and maintaining the integrity of the genome. Blackburn began her research in this area while she was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale.

Blackburn earned her doctorate from the University of Cambridge in England in 1975 and did her postdoctoral work at Yale from 1975 to 1977 in molecular and cellular biology in the laboratory of another 2006 Lasker honoree, Joseph G. Gall, Ph.D. ’52.

“As a postdoctoral fellow in my lab at Yale,” Gall recalled, “Liz identified the short DNA sequence that defines the telomeres, or ends of chromosomes. Later when she and her student, Carol Greider, found the enzyme (telomerase) that adds these sequences to chromosomes, everyone knew immediately that they had made a monumental discovery. Since then, the importance of their discovery has only grown.”

Among other honors and awards, Blackburn was named California Scientist of the Year in 1999, elected President of the American Society for Cell Biology for the year 1998 and served as a board member of the Genetics Society of America (2000-2002). Dr. Blackburn is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991), the Royal Society of London (1992), the American Academy of Microbiology (1993) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2000). She was elected Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, and was elected as a member of the Institute of Medicine in 2000.

Gall received the Albert Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science, “for a distinguished 57-year career—as a founder of modern cell biology and the field of chromosome structure and function; bold experimentalist; inventor of in situ hybridization; and early champion of women in science.” Gall, now at the Carnegie Institution (Department of Embryology at Baltimore), ranks among the most distinguished cell biologists in the history of the discipline.

Among Gall’s awards are the 2004 Society for Developmental Biology Lifetime Achievement Award and the 1996 American Association for the Advancement of Science Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1988 he received the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the Yale Graduate School on exceptionally distinguished alumni.

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