HHMI Scientist Recognized for Pioneering Research in the Genetics of Hypertension
HHMI investigator is among 6 honored for excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.
HHMI investigator Richard P. Lifton was honored by the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation for the discovery of genes and biochemical mechanisms that cause hypertension.
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation announced that Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator Richard P. Lifton of Yale University is among the six scientists awarded the Life Sciences Prize for excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.
The Breakthrough Prizes recognize pioneering work in physics and genetics, cosmology, and neurology and mathematics. Each prize carries an award of $3 million.
Lifton, who has been an HHMI investigator since 1994, uses genetic approaches to identify the genes and pathways that contribute to common human diseases, including cardiovascular, renal, and bone disease. He was honored by the foundation for the discovery of genes and biochemical mechanisms that cause hypertension.
More than two decades ago, when Lifton first proposed using genetic methods to study the causes of high blood pressure, his approach was not uniformly accepted. Such a complicated condition, critics thought, would not lend itself to traditional genetic tactics, which try to link a disease to alterations in a single gene.
Since then, Lifton has proved his detractors wrong many times over. Lifton has identified more than 20 genes associated with blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and bone density, and he has characterized mutations that cause either extreme hypertension (high blood pressure) or hypotension (low blood pressure) in people.
More significantly, he has shown that severe blood pressure problems can be caused by mutations in genes that regulate the amount of sodium chloride the kidney allows to flow into the blood. When these genes falter in severe hypertension cases, salt levels rise, blood volume increases, the heart pumps harder, and blood pressure surges. With excessive hypotension, the opposite occurs. Today, his findings have changed how doctors treat hypertension, which affects approximately one billion people worldwide and is the most prevalent cardiovascular disease risk factor.
The foundation also recognized HHMI alumni investigator James Allison at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for the discovery of T cell checkpoint blockade as effective cancer therapy. Allison was an HHMI investigator from 2004-2012.
The six winners of the 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences are:
• James Allison, MD Anderson Cancer Center, for the discovery of T cell checkpoint blockade as effective cancer therapy.
• Mahlon DeLong, Emory University, for defining the interlocking circuits in the brain that malfunction in Parkinson's disease. This scientific foundation underlies the circuit-based treatment of Parkinson's disease by deep brain stimulation.
• Michael Hall, University of Basel, for the discovery of Target of Rapamycin (TOR) and its role in cell growth control.
• Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for discoveries leading to the development of controlled drug-release systems and new biomaterials.
• Richard Lifton, Yale University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute, for the discovery of genes and biochemical mechanisms that cause hypertension.
• Alexander Varshavsky, California Institute of Technology, for discovering critical molecular determinants and biological functions of intracellular protein degradation.
Prize recipients are invited to serve on the selection committee to select recipients of future prizes. Last year, HHMI investigators Cornelia I. Bargmann at the Rockefeller University, Charles L. Sawyers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine were awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
Founded in 2013, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career. The Foundation was founded by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, and Yuri and Julia Milner, and is chaired by Arthur Levinson, who is also chairman of Genentech and Apple.