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The Science Heroes in this Table of Contents have contributed to making the world a better place.  We believe they should be honored.


Basic Science
Scientists whose research in basic science laid the foundation for discoveries that do save lives
Benacerraf, Baruj
Blackburn, Elizabeth
Burkitt, Denis
Cori, Gerty
Crick, Francis
Doherty, Peter
Doppler, Christian
Franklin, Rosalind
Greider, Carol
Leloir, Luis
Levi-Montalcini, Rita
McCulloch, Ernest
Milstein, Cesar
Ochoa, Severo
Prusiner, Stanley
Steinman, Ralph
Strominger, Jack
Szostak, Jack
Till, James
Unanue, Emil
Watson, James
Wiley, Don
Zinkernagel, Rolf
 
userMaleSmallBaruj Benacerraf
Discovered the Major Histocompatibility Complex


1920
Caracas, Venezuela

Everyone wants to fit in with their friends, to wear the same “look,” to listen to the same types of music, to watch the same movies. Yet, we all know we're individuals as well, each a unique person. That uniqueness also applies to the surface of cells in a human body, which are unique to each individual. A Venezuelan immunologist named Baruj Benacerraf demonstrated in the early 1960s that these cell surfaces are subject to coding by genes. This coding designates which of the major histocompatibility antigens, also known as H antigens for short, are present on the cell surface. H antigens function as kind of a boy-girl dating mechanism. It determines if two cells can join hands and co-exist side by side, or break up. Dr. Benacerraf's studies helped scientists understand how cells make use of H antigens, which help the body’s immune system tell self from non-self. This becomes very important in organ transplantation. Benacerraf received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1980 based on his work with H antigens.

Nobel Prize cite

Jewish Virtual Library entry

Wikipedia reference

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userFemaleSmall Elizabeth Blackburn
Discovered Telomerase


November 26, 1948
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

You may have heard of the old practical joke at school, where someone might bring in, say, a worm to give as a “gift” to someone, with the idea of shocking their classmate. Worms do make many people squeamish, but they have performed a valuable role in science. One study of worms indicates that by lengthening the telomere of the worm, the worm lives longer. A telomere is the end part of a chromosome, like the cap of a pen or the tip of a shoelace. Itt was discovered by Elizabeth Blackburn, working with colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak in 1978. The hope of such research is that, by applying an enzyme called telomerase (also discovered by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak) to the cells of humans, the telomeres of those human cells will stop shortening, thus the cells will stop aging, and perhaps people will stop aging as well. So far, only the worms have showed such a positive correlation. On the other hand, cells which can reproduce continuously raises the danger of cancer. Blackburn herself earned a premier spot on President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics in 2001, but was forced off that body after her disagreement with the policy which prohibited studies on human embryonic stem cells. Blackburn had also been a critic of female discrimination in the sciences, including scientific institutions not making allowances for women who have young children. Along with Greider and Szostak, Blackburn was the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for her work on telomeres.

New England Journal of Medicine reference

MIT Press entry

Wikipedia - Telomere

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Denis Burkitt
Discovered Burkitt's Lymphoma


February 28, 1911 – March 23, 1993
Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Ireland

Today, we all agree it is good to follow a budget. One scientist who really knew how to stretch a dollar, or, rather, an English pound, was Denis Burkitt. As a boy Burkitt lost an eye, but he still grew up to become a one-eyed surgeon! In 1957, the Irish surgeon spent 25 pounds, equivalent to about $300 US dollars today, to print a survey for hospitals in Africa. That research was undertaken to uncover information about the incidence of a jaw tumor that was seen predominantly in Africans. Using the results of the survey, and his love of Geography, Burkitt mapped out the cases and discovered that the cancer was predominantly in areas where there was a high population of mosquitoes. Another scientist, Tony Epstein, was present at lecture where Burkitt outlined his study. Epstein also saw a correlation between geography, climate, and a virus which was later named Epstein-Barr after Dr. Epstein. Subsequent findings noted that mosquitoes were bearers of malaria, which acted to diminish immune responses in children, and then the virus could take hold and cause the tumor. The disease was named Burkitt’s lymphoma after Denis Burkitt and the kind of cancer the virus caused. This was the first human cancer where a viral cause was found. Burkitt tried chemotherapy after surgical solutions didn’t work. To his delight, he found that the tumors were very responsive to chemotherapy. He was one of the first researchers to discover both a cause and a cure for a disease. Burkitt accomplished a lot in his life and was also the President of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

New York Times reference

Wikipedia entry

Surgeons News source

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userMaleSmall Gerty Cori
Discovered How the Body Breaks Down Glycogen for Energy


August 15, 1896 – October 26, 1957
Prague, Austrian Empire (now the Czech Republic)

Most of us have ridden a bicycle, or used an exercycle, but what we may not have known is that our bodies were following the Cori Cycle during those workouts. The Cori Cycle is named after Gerty Cori, the first American female recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Gerty made this research breakthrough along with her husband, Carl, and Argentine colleague, Bernardo Houssay, in 1929. The Cori Cycle describes how energy moves within the body, breaking down glycogen in muscle into lactic acid and then resynthesizing it and storing it as a source of energy. Gerty Cori worked intently studying the interaction between sugars and insulin as well. Cori faced discrimination throughout her life. She was born Jewish, and although she converted to Catholicism, the anti-Semitism that existed in central Europe between the World Wars still bothered her. In the United States, she faced sexism. At one point, she was offered a research position that paid her only 1/10th the income her husband received. She was also told that it was “un-American” for a husband and wife to work together. Despite these obstacles, Cori went on to achieve significant honors, including an appointment by President Truman to the board of the National Science Foundation. There's even a crater on the Moon named after her, as well as a postage stamp.

Nobel Prize reference

Jewish Virtual Library cite

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Francis Crick

Discovered the Famous Double Helix!


June 8, 1916 – July 28, 2004
Weston Favell, Northamptonshire, England

Strangeways, Drawbridge, Central dogma, The Golden Helix. Are these scenes and terms from the next Harry Potter movie, perhaps? No, they're actually places and ideas surrounding a real life scientific wizard, Francis Crick. Crick was part of a team of researchers, along with James Watson, who discovered the DNA Double Helix in 1953. The Double Helix is a crucial keystone in unlocking the secrets to the genetic code. Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge, England, is one location where Crick carried out his studies. Drawbridge is the middle name of Crick's grandfather. “Central dogma” relates to a postulate put forward by Crick that proteins are created and directed by information originating in DNA, which then transmit instructions for the proteins via RNA. The Golden Helix is the name for the house Crick lived in, with his family. Crick, along with Watson and another scientist Maurice Wilkins, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962. There are scientists and researchers that think the prize for the breakthrough involving the Double Helix should also have included Rosalind Franklin, whose X-Ray Diffraction was essential in the development of the Francis-Crick DNA model.

Nobel Price entry

Guardian link

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Peter Doherty
Discovered the Major Histocompatibility Complex


October 15, 1940
Brisbane, Australia

Television has a program called CSI, where investigators inspect murders to search for clues on the culprit. Scientist Peter Doherty was involved in “pig CSI”: He was a veterinarian who studied what caused the deaths of pigs and cows. Not content to remain in the animal world, Doherty branched off into human studies, and discovered how T-cells were able to target and kill virus-occupied cells. T-cells are one type of white blood cell that helps fight infections. In 1973, Doherty, along with his colleague Rolf Zinkernagel, identified how the infected cell had two markers which the T-Cell needed to recognize before it began its work. One marker was the antigen, in this case the virus, while the other marker was the major histocompatability complex (MHC). The MHC is present on the surface of the infected cell. Doherty's studies focused on the T-cell's surface, which contained a receptor which scanned the damaged cell, looking for the two markers. One important consequence of Doherty's finding was the potential to develop methods using T-cells to search out cancer cells as an “altered self” cell, and destroy the malignancy. Doherty was a recipient of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1995. Doherty and Zinkernagel both received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996. Doherty excelled in spite of his lack of interest in science in high school .He was kept out of biology class because, only girls could take Biology in Australia at that time! It’s never too late to take up an interest in science!

Nobel Prize entry

Science cite

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Christian Doppler
Discovered the Doppler Effect


November 29, 1803 – March 17, 1853
Salzburg, Austria

At the beach, a motorboat speeds by on the water. Notice how the pitch of the engine gets higher as it approaches, then lowers as the vessel speeds off? This phenomenon is called the Doppler Effect, and is named after the Austrian physicist who first discovered it, Christian Doppler. If you’ve ever received a speeding ticket, you might be able to blame Doppler for that too. Police use radar guns, applying Doppler technology, to catch speeders. The Doppler Effect in sound was first tested by Doppler when a railroad car of trumpet players rolled past a train station where another group of trumpet players were trumpeting, all at the same perfect pitch. Amazingly, as the train car moved past, the pitch changed. Doppler also theorized that the Doppler Effect could be ascertained astronomically by a change in the color of light waves as stars approach or recede from each other. Doppler's professional career was hampered by outbreaks of revolution in 1848 in Europe, by conflicts at teaching positions, and by problems with his health, including tuberculosis. Today, there are a myriad of medical applications using the Doppler Effect, including echocardiograms (ultrasound pictures of the heart), obstetrical ultrasonography (ultrasound pictures of unborn babies), and measurement of blood flow which is important for diagnosing heart problems. Doppler radar is also important to help meteorologists (weather people) warn of tornadoes. Medical and weather applications make this a lifesaving discovery.

The British Journal of Radiology entry

Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia reference

Hamburg University resource

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userFemaleSmall Rosalind Franklin
The Important Partner in DNAs Discovery You Never Hear About!


July 25, 1920 – April 16, 1958
Notting Hill, London, England

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If talking about the discovery of the DNA Double Helix by scientists James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953, a picture is worth a thousand controversies. The dispute indeed deals with a photograph – photograph number. 51 to be exact. This picture was taken by British-scientist Rosalind Franklin in May 1952 using the X-Ray diffraction process. Photograph 51 shows the helix pattern that would form the foundation for the DNA Double Helix model. The problem was that the picture was shown to Watson and Crick by Maurice Wilkins, the assistant director of the lab that Franklin worked for (Wilkins also joined with Watson and Crick as a Nobel recipient for the Double Helix.) Wilkins obtained photograph No. 51 from Franklin's research assistant Raymond Gosling. But, Wilkins never bothered to get the permission of Franklin to show Watson and Crick the photo. That picture was a crucial ingredient in the eventual discovery of the Double Helix, yet Franklin only received a passing mention of her contribution in a footnote in Watson and Crick's publication of their finding. Compounding this lack of attribution is another instance where Franklin's work was borrowed by Watson and Crick with inadequate mention. In 1951, Franklin gave a lecture pointing out the A and B versions of DNA, the location of phosphates on the exterior of the molecule, and the amount of water involved. Watson was in attendance at the Franklin lecture. The key points of her lecture also played a large role in the Double Helix discovery. There was a general environment of sexism at King's College in England where Franklin's research was done, including sex-segregated dining halls (although some male scientists avoided the men-only cafeteria for a mixed sex dining room). Franklin never received the Nobel Prize for her key contribution, presumably because she died young, at age 37, prior to the award, and the Nobel committee stipulates that recipients have to be alive. Nonetheless, there have been many posthumous recognitions of Franklin's work, including the National Portrait Gallery, where her portrait has been placed with those of Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins. Franklin did grow close to Crick and his family after she left King's College and before her death. Moreover, in 1968, Watson did provide much more detail acknowledging Franklin's role in the discovery of DNA in a book, called, not surprisingly, “The Double Helix”. However, Watson’s commentary in the book was not as gracious and was seen as disparaging.

National Institutes of Health cite

UCLA cite

Wikipedia entry

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userFemaleSmall Carol Greider
Discovered Telomeres


April 15, 1961
San Diego, California

How would you like to get a phone call at 5 am in the morning? Probably not, right? Well, what if the call was from the Nobel Committee, telling you that you'd just received the Nobel Prize? And you had to be ready to give a statement within 45 minutes? Well, that's just the situation that happened to scientist Carol Greider in 2009. Greider, along with her colleagues Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for her work on telomeres and telomerase back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Telomeres are the tips of a chromosome, and shorten each time the cell divides. Picture the cap of a tube of toothpaste or the tip of a shoelace to see the relation of a telomere to the overall cell. After a certain amount of cell divisions, the telomeres act to limit any more splits, and the cell will no longer reproduce, and so becomes dormant. An enzyme, Telomerase, also a finding of Greider, Blackburn, and Szostak, acts to keep the telomeres elongated, so that the cell can divide indefinitely. Limiting telomerase helps to put a brake on cancer cells, which otherwise keep on endlessly dividing. Greider created the first “knockout mouse” for telomerase: No, it's not a pet of rap/alt/electronic musician Danger Mouse; rather, a “knockout mouse” is a genetically engineered rodent with some of its genes switched off. A knockout mouse can be studied to see what the effects are when certain genes are not working. The genetic makeup of such mice can be compared to humans. Greider's telomerase research was one of the biggest Christmas presents ever given by scientists to the world - Greider made her discovery on Christmas Day, 1984.

Johns Hopkins University Gazette reference

Wikipedia entry

Wikipedia cite

Lancet resource

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userMaleSmall Luis Leloir
Discovered the Cause of Galactosemia - Rare Condition of Newborns


September 6, 1906 -1987
Paris, France

Most every student has experienced the anxiety of not getting a good grade on a test. It might surprise you to learn that one prominent scientist failed the anatomy exam for medical school - four times! Luis Leloir, a French born Argentine researcher, was that scientist. Later though, he became a doctor, and went on to discover the cause of galactosemia, a rare genetic disorder marked by the inability to metabolize galactose, a common sugar. In the body, lactose (commonly found in lots of food such as milk) taken in by diet is normally broken down by an enzyme into glucose and galactose. In infants with this disorder, they either entirely lack or have severely limited amounts of the enzymes that would metabolize the galactose. As a result, toxic levels will build up in the blood, eventually causing liver failure, kidney failure, and brain damage. Leloir discovered that the cause was a missing enzyme and discovered how the body normally metabolizes galactose. Leloir was a very resourceful researcher. His labs had very little funding, so he had to make due with very rudimentary equipment. For example, one time he created a centrifuge out of a spinning tire! Another time, he used a childhood toy Meccano set, which is very much like an erector set, to build a tool for column chromatography! To protect his building's supply of books, he fashioned gutters made out of cardboard that he waterproofed! Leloir also had to take refuge from Argentina in 1943 when he incurred the wrath of Juan Peron, the caudillo (a political-military leader) of the Argentine government. He also was interested in the culinary arts and he invented a new dressing to be applied to shrimp, called salsa golf, which mixed ketchup and mayonnaise. Leloir was a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Leloir was a recipient of the 1970 Nobel Prize in chemistry, the first ever Spanish language scientist to receive that award.

Chemistry Explained website

Nobel Prize entry

Wikipedia entry

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userFemaleSmall Rita Levi-Montalcini
World's Oldest Scientist


April 22, 1909
Turin, Italy

How old is it when you're “over the hill”? 30, 50, or 75? Today, a Nobel winning scientist goes to work every day at the ripe young age of 101! Rita Levi-Montalcini, the scientist who, in 1952, discovered Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), is just such an active senior. She credits her stamina to diet, the fact she's not married, and to her schedule (she rises at 5 am, and goes to bed at 11pm! She even uses eye drops from her famous discovery, NGF, which may help as well. Nerve Growth Factor is a small protein that is important for the growth, maintenance, and survival of certain nerve cells. It is hoped that it can be used to help treat diseases of the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis. There is evidence that it may be related to diabetes, as well as some psychiatric disorders. Levi-Montalcini's main focus today is on brain science. She survived WWII in Italy, surviving Mussolini's hostility toward Jews, then dodged Allied bombing raids at her home in Turin, by moving to the countryside, before resuming a more normal scientific career. In 1986, Levi-Montalcini was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. She's a prominent member of Italy's political establishment as well, having been appointed a Senator for Life in 2001.

Times Online link

Wikipedia entry

Independent entry

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userMaleSmall Ernest McCulloch
The First to Identify the Stem Cell


April 21, 1926
Toronto, Canada

Are you a “Transformers” fan? Those TV cartoon robots can develop into all kinds of different objects, machines, and animals. Well, there are biological “transformer” cells in real life, called stem cells, which were discovered by Canadian scientist Ernest McCulloch. McCulloch, along with colleague James Till, published their work about the stem cell in 1963. McCulloch and Till radiated mice in order to wipe out their immune system and then injected bone marrow cells into them. In their research, they found nodules in the spleens of rodents where the transplanted cells had begun to differentiate, that is, to transform themselves into different types of cells. McCulloch and Till also noticed that these cells had the capability to self-renew. This was the sought after “stem cell”. Their breakthrough was the first step for many applications of possible medical treatments. It is currently used experimentally to treat several types of cancer and there are hopes to treat many other diseases such as Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and many others. McCulloch was made a member of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2004. McCulloch and Till both were recipients of the 2005 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research entry

Lasker Foundation reference

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Cesar Milstein
Developed a Technique for Producing Monoclonal Antibodies


October 8, 1927 – March 24, 2002
Bahia Blanca, Argentina

Cancer scientists continue to work towards “smart bombs” against cancer cells. The idea is to steer antibodies with laser precision against tumor cells, destroying the malignancies but leaving healthy cells alone. One researcher who helped advance this cause was Cesar Milstein. Milstein was born in Argentina, and worked in the field of biochemistry. In 1975, Milstein collaborated with Georges Kohler and they were able to develop a procedure fusing an antibody producing cell with a cancer cell and grow it in incubators. These were mouse cells and they produced antibodies that were very specific, that is they only reacted with a single kind of cell. Such unadulterated antibodies are called monoclonal antibodies. Their results led to the ability to identify specific proteins at the cellular level, which has greatly assisted research and treatments for various illnesses, including some cancers. Milstein had an interesting personal life. When he married his wife Celia, their honeymoon consisted of hitchhiking across Europe for almost a year, then spending some time in a Kibbutz in Israel! Milstein was the recipient of a large number of distinguished awards, including the Karl Landsteiner Award, American Association of Blood Banks in 1982, the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1984.

New York Times link

Wikipedia entry

Nobel Price cite

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userMaleSmallSevero Ochoa
Discovered Mechanisms in the Synthesis of RNA


September 24, 1905 – November 1, 1993
Luarca (Asturias), Spain

Some scientists get buildings, libraries, or distinguished awards named for them. Researcher Severo Ochoa was unique - an asteroid was christened in his name! This Spanish doctor made an important discovery in 1955 when he developed a process to synthesize Ribonucleic Acid (RNA). RNA is an important molecule for protein synthesis in the human body. Being able to synthesize it was a vital step in helping other scientists crack the genetic code. Ochoa also had important accomplishments in the study of Vitamin B-1 and how the body uses carbon dioxide. Ochoa had to move three times due to dangerous political environments. He left Spain in 1936 for Germany at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. After a year in Germany, he moved again to England. After surviving the Nazi Blitz bombing in 1940, he moved to the United States in 1941 to avoid the worst of World War I in Europe. In 1959, Ochoa was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Arthur Kornberg. So, like his precocious admittance to medical school at age 17, Ochoa continued to learn and succeed his whole career.

Nobel Prize website

Wikipedia entry

New York Times reference

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userMaleSmall Stanley Prusiner
Discovered Prions


May 28, 1942
Des Moines, Iowa

When you're out with friends on a Friday night, one popular hangout is the hamburger stand, where you can buy some burgers, fries, and maybe a shake or soda. But beef eaters have gotten an occasional scare from a sickness called “mad cow disease”, where cattle brains turn into a mushy mess and the bovines ultimately die. It is thought that Mad Cow Disease can be passed to humans through diet, and that's one reason the work of Stanley Prusiner is so important. In 1982, Prusiner discovered the cause of mad cow disease, as well as the related malady in humans called Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease. The source of the illness is an organism called a “prion”, which is a new attacker, joining the ranks of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Prusiner himself coined the term “prion”, which is a combination of “protein” and “infectious”. Prions have an unusual characteristic in that they're proteins which can reproduce, yet don't have any DNA or RNA. Prior to his discovery, this had been considered impossible. However, they cannot reproduce without being in a host. After entering the host, the prion induces the normal proteins to convert into an abnormal form. Then the new prions (the abnormal proteins) can go on to convert more proteins and start a chain reaction which will produce large amounts of the prion. They then accumulate in the host tissues and cause damage and cell death. So far, all prion diseases discovered have been neurological, that is they affect the brain or nervous system. There are no known treatments currently. Prusiner's research has helped with understanding the causes of other dementia diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. Prusiner was the recipient of the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1994 and the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1997.

Lasker Foundation entry

Wikipedia entry

Jewish Virtual Library link

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userMaleSmall Ralph Steinman
Discovered Dendritic Cells


1943
Montreal, Canada

If you've ever seen “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” on cable, you know what happens when the bad guys jump bail. “Dog” comes after them, to bring them to justice. In the human body, there are “Dog, the Bounty Hunter” cells as well, called dendritic cells. Discovered by Ralph Steinman and his colleague Zanvil Cohn, dendritic cells search out antigens in the body, round them up, convert those antigens into peptides, handcuff the peptides to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), then arraign that combination before the judge (T cell). T cells are the body's immune court system, which tries and convicts cells that burglarize and attack the human body, and release those cells that are harmless. Dendritic cells look a little bit like the branches of some hardwood, so Steinman named them after the Greek term for tree. Dendritic cells have assisted studies which are focused on fighting cancers, autoimmune disease, and infections. Steinman was the recipient of the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 2003 as well as the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 2007.

Rockefeller University cite

Lasker Foundation reference

Gairdner entry

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userMaleSmall Jack Strominger
Basic Immune System Research


August 7, 1925
New York, NY

Do you find biology class uninteresting, or maybe a chore? Are you one of those students who can't wait until the bell rings, and you can move on from the drudgery of the lab? Well, it might surprise you that an important scientist was just like you. His name was Jack Strominger, and he had little interest in biology when he was younger. Fortunately, he changed his mind as he grew older, and became fascinated with diseases. He researched major histocompatibility complexes (MHCs) to discover just why the human body's immune system rejects transplanted tissues and organs. MHCs are a group of genes that make substances that are found on the surface of cells and make it able to tell “self” from “non-self”. In 1987, with colleague Don Wiley, Strominger used crystallography (a way to study the three dimensional arrangement of the atoms in a crystal) to photograph MHC proteins and discovered a cleft in the MHC proteins stocked with antigens (substances that cause the body’s immune system to react). As a result, Strominger was able to demonstrate how the immune system functioned, including the rejection of foreign cells from a transplant, and even instances when the body would turn on itself because of autoimmune disorders. In 1995, Strominger received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.

Harvard University link

Wikipedia entry

Lasker Foundation reference

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userMaleSmall Jack Szostak
Telomerase - A Step Towards a Cancer Cure?


November 9, 1952
London, England

Quick quiz - what's an important ingredient in bread? If you answered yeast, then you would be correct. One prominent scientist who worked with yeast was Jack Szostak. Szostak was a yeast geneticist who, along with colleagues Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, discovered telomeres and telomerase in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Like the cap on a pen or the tip of a shoelace (aglet), a telomere is affixed to the end of a chromosome. The telomere acts to limit the number of times a cell can divide, by shortening each time a split occurs. Eventually the telomeres become so abbreviated that the cell can no longer reproduce, and thus becomes dormant. Szostak, Blackburn, and Greider also discovered telomerase, which is an enzyme that allows telomeres to lengthen. These are important findings because cancer cells divide without limit, due to the presence of telomerase. It is hoped that this discovery may help in the search for a way to stop this unlimited cell division. Other applications of telomere and telomerase studies deal with diseases associated with human aging. Szostak's more recent focus is on how life developed originally on Earth. Szostak, Blackburn, and Greider received the 2006 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Cornell reference

Lasker Foundation cite

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall James Till

Discovered Stem Cells


August 25, 1931
Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada

Many of you watch YouTube, where there are free videos to watch of your favorite band or of people doing about anything you can imagine. In like manner, many scientists support open access to educational studies and papers on the internet. The reason seems obvious - many more researchers will review a finding if the cost is minimal or free and easy to access. One prominent scholar who advocates this is James Till, who co-discovered the stem cell with Ernest McCulloch back in 1963. Stem cells differentiate into different types of cells and have the capacity for self-renewal. This groundbreaking discovery helped pave the way for potential medical treatments for diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and diabetes. Along with McCulloch, Till was the recipient of the 2005 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Research. In 2006, Till, a man highly respected for his integrity and principle, was made a member of the prestigious provincial association recognized in Canada, the Order of Ontario.

Lasker Foundation entry

Gairdner reference

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Emil Unanue
Major Histocompatibility Complex


September 13, 1934
Cuba

Whenever you watch a TV awards program, such as the MTV awards, usually there's a “presenter”- some star or musical talent who opens the envelope, and announces the winner for a particular category. Well, scientist Emil Unanue's work involved “presenters” as well, only these presenters identified the presence of antigens. Antigens are foreign substances which are different from substances found normally in the human body and cause it to make an “antibody” in response to it. An example of this would be a virus, bacteria, tumor cell, or a cell from someone else’s body. Dr. Unanue worked on cells that introduce the antigen to the body. These presenters are called “antigen presenting cells.” The antigen presenting cells enable killer T cells, one of the body's good guys, who attack viral infections and tumor cells, to see the antigens. Unanue's research in the late 1980s pointed out that peptides (short chains of amino acids – basically short proteins) associated with hostile antigens were tied to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The MHC is naturally present on nucleated cells. The peptide-MHC partnership was picked up on the radar of the T cells, which then swoop in to eliminate the intruders from the human body. Unanue was a recipient of the 1995 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the 2000 Gairdner Foundation International Award.

Lasker Foundation reference

Gairdner website

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall James Watson
"It's Elementary Dear Watson" - Yes, He Found the Building Blocks of Life!



April 6, 1928
Chicago, Illinois

Some classes just aren’t as exciting as others. As the teacher drones on and on, you wonder if they’ll ever stop. This famous scientist would agree. James Watson, who partnered with Francis Crick in discovering the DNA Double Helix, was often known to say, “Avoid boring people”. While Watson was brilliant himself, he was quick to talk smack about his colleagues, calling them “dinosaurs”, “deadbeats”, or “has-beens”. Now there's an interesting professor! Watson's accomplishments span over 40 years and include the Double Helix, discovered in 1953, and the human genome project in the 1990s. . The Double Helix was important, because it was the model for gene operation, and a template for genetic makeup. The discovery of DNA set the course for major breakthroughs for many diseases which have a genetic basis. Watson was the chief of the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1990 through 1992, but resigned in protest when efforts were made to patent genome patterns. Watson thought such information should be freely available to the scientific community. Not surprisingly, Watson himself is anything but boring, and is known for making controversial statements, many of which he later regrets. Watson is a vocal opponent of nuclear power because of the danger of nuclear waste disposal as well as security concerns. Watson received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, along with colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, for the Double Helix, in 1962.

Chemical Heritage Foundation link

Nature entry

Wikipedia entry

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userMaleSmall Don Wiley
Major Histocompatibility Complex

October 21, 1944 – November 16, 2001
*************

Who says scientists aren't cool? Don Wiley, a prominent researcher dealing with viruses and the immune system, drove around in a fancy Aston Martin, a racing car built in the United Kingdom. Now that's driving in style! Wiley, like many high school students, didn't care much for wordy explanations of biology. Instead, he preferred a drawing or a cartoon which painted a picture of the topic he was studying. Indeed, Wiley was an amateur illustrator himself – he once sketched a simple cartoon to show how a T cell attacks an intruder cell! Wiley's big accomplishment was to use X-ray crystallography to reveal a three dimensional portrait of several key major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. This work was important in the effort of developing anti-viral shots and fighting off devastating illnesses like smallpox, the flu, AIDS, Ebola, and herpes simplex. In 1995, Wiley was the recipient of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. Unfortunately, Wiley died before his work was done. His body was found in the Mississippi river in December 2001 after he was reported missing. The death was ruled an accident.

Lasker Foundation resource

Harvard cite

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userMaleSmall Rolf Zinkernagel
Major Histocompatibility Complex

January 6, 1944
Riehen, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland

This famous scientist liked to work in carpentry, and even helped his brother renovate a home dating back to the 16th century! Rolf Zinkernagel learned cabinetry and woodworking when he was younger, and has kept those skills. Zinkernagel's scientific research dealt with the immune system, and together with Peter Doherty, he discovered, in 1974, an important fact about killer T cells. One of the functions of these cells is to destroy infecting viruses. Zinkernage found that the cell had to recognize not only the virus itself but also a molecule of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). The purpose of the MHC is to tell the foreign “non-self” proteins from “self” ones. This identifies the proteins that the immune system needs to remove. Zinkernagel's study found that the T cell used a specific protein receptor on the T cell's surface for this identification. The ramifications of Zinkernagel's effort are important in the development of vaccinations to assist the immune system in fending off cancers as well as efforts to address dysfunctions of the immune system itself, called autoimmune disorders. Zinkernagel was the recipient, along with Doherty, of the 1995 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.

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