National Academy of Science to Recognize Four Individuals for Cancer Breakthroughs

During their 155th annual meeting, to be help April 29, the National Academy of Science (NAS) will award 19 individuals for their extraordinary scientific achievements in a wide range of fields including the physical, biological, and medical sciences.

James Allison, MD, PhD

Among the individuals to be acknowledged isJames Allison, MD, PhD,a cancer immunotherapy innovator, who will be honored with the 2018 Jessie Stenson Kovalenko Medal for his outstanding research in medical sciences, most notably his pivotal discovery of the protein structure of a T-cell receptor made in 1983.

This finding led to the discovery of 2 molecules related to the activation of T cells, CD28 and CTLA-4. Further, in 1996, Allison showed that CTLA-4 blockade resulted in tumor rejection in mice, functioning as an inhibitor that restricts T-cell responses. This discovery ultimately led to the origin of immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy, an approach that targets the immune system rather than the tumors themselves, causing the immune response to attack the tumor instead.

“Allison’s pioneering research has had a vast impact on cancer therapy and the evolution of the entire field of cancer immunology,” the organization noted in a statement. “His work advanced science while improving the health and well-being of cancer patients worldwide, a process that continues to this day.”

He worked with pharmaceutical companies to offer his new form of treatment for many years, leading to the approval of ipilimumab (Yervoy) for patients with stage IV melanoma in 2011. This was the first drug to show an extended survival in this patient population. Consequently, other checkpoints have since been identified, resulting in additional checkpoint inhibitors approvals by the FDA for the treatment of a variety of cancers.

“This richly deserved recognition of Jim Allison by the National Academy of Sciences highlights the importance of basic science research in the improvement of cancer treatment,” Peter WT Pisters, MD, president of MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in a statement. “Dr Allison’s research insights and his drive to see them translated into a new therapeutic approach for patients inform our immunotherapy efforts. We are proud to have him as a leader and colleague at MD Anderson.”

Allison, who was named anOncLiveGiant of Cancer Care in 2014, is currently the chair of the department of immunology, the Vivian L. Smith Distinguished Chair in Immunology, director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Research, and the executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform for the Moon Shots Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

His research of the immune system continues, and he is also focused on finding ways to combine checkpoint blockade therapy with other drugs to extend the impact of immunotherapy for cancer treatments. The Kovalenko medal, given every 2 years, is awarded with a $25,000 prize and a $50,000 grant to support Allison’s continued research.

Jennifer A. Doudna, MD, PhD

Jennifer A. Doudna, MD, PhD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) principle investigator, is being recognized with the 2018 NAS Award in Chemical Sciences.

The NAS Award in Chemical Sciences is given annually to honor innovative research in the chemical sciences that attribute to better understandings of natural sciences and to the benefit of humanity. The award is presented with a medal and a prize of $15,000.

Doudna co-founded, with her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, the technology for efficient site-specific genome engineering using CRISPR/Cas9 nucleases for genome editing. This breakthrough technology has allowed scientists to cut out unwanted DNA sequences and replace them with desired strands, having a prominent and widespread impact on all areas of both basic and applied life sciences. CRISPR genome editing has already been widely adopted by laboratories, resulting in new areas of scientific experimentation that were previously not possible.

“(Doudna is) one of these people that have really made a huge impact in science and revolutionized the way many people do science,” said Eva Nogales, PhD, head of the Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology Division in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at the University of California at Berkeley in a statement. Doudna’s devotion to understanding the function of catalytic and other non—protein-coding RNAs has led to many pioneering discoveries on how RNA can fold to function in complex ways.

Adriaan Bax, MD, PhD

In addition to her role as investigator with the HHMI, Doudna is currently a professor of molecular and cell biology and professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. Additionally, she holds the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences.The 2018 NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing will be granted toAdriaan Bax, MD, PhD, a National Institute of Health (NIH) distinguished investigator, for his contributions to the field of structural biology.

The NAS Award for Scientific Reviewing, presented with a $25,000 prize, recognizes authors whose reviews in structural biology have synthesized extensive and difficult material, rendering a significant service to science and influencing the course of scientific thought. It is sponsored entirely by Annual Reviews.

Bax is responsible for transforming the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy into a readily accessible and effective modality for the structure, function, and dynamics of biological macromolecules. His consistent developments of novel methods within the field has led to important advances in the basic understanding of how biological systems work at the molecular level.

Publishing more than 400 original research articles on NMR methods and application, his book, “Two-Dimensional Nuclear Magnetic Resonance in Liquids,” was the motivation behind the widespread evolution of the technology within the field of structural biology. He has since applied NMR to the discovery of proteins related HIV and Parkinson’s disease. Currently, his research is focused on the use of dipolar couplings to quicken the structure determination process and to extend NMR to lipophilic proteins.

Howard Y. Chang, MD, PhD

The 2018 NAS Award in Molecular Biology will be given toHoward Y. Chang, MD, PhD. The award recognizes recent notable discoveries in molecular biology by a young scientist (defined as no older than 45), funded by Pfizer, Inc, who is a citizen of the United States. It is presented with a medal and a $25,000 prize.

Chang, a distinguished physician-scientist, contributed to a series of discoveries that introduced the important and pervasive roles of long noncoding RNA within the human genome. Long noncoding RNAs are important causes of cancer metastasis and other human diseases, as well as of development and aging. His work showed how long noncoding RNAs can act as guides, scaffolds, or decoys between DNA and enzyme machines.

These discoveries themselves would not have been possible without Chang’s invention of new genomic technologies, such as ATAC-seq, which has revolutionized the field of epigenetics, improving the ability to map active DNA elements by 1 million-fold in sensitivity and 100-fold in speed. Such technologies have already been adopted by investigators in thousands of labs around the world and have revolutionized the study of many human diseases and model organisms.

Chang’s honors include the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research, Judson Daland Prize of the American Philosophical Society, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist, the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, and more. Additionally, his work was honored by the journalCellas a Landmark paper over the 40 years and byScienceas an “insight of the decade.”