Lasker Awards

By Jerilyn Watson

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Six scientists have won this year's Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards. The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation presented the awards last week in New York City.

Harvey Alter and Michael Houghton shared the award for medical research involving patients. Doctor Alter led the team that discovered the virus that causes hepatitis B. He works at the National Institutes of Health, near Washington, D. C.

Doctor Alter and Doctor Houghton developed methods to test blood for hepatitis. This ended the risk of people developing hepatitis after receiving blood from other people after an accident or operation. This risk decreased from thirty percent in Nineteen-Seventy to almost no risk today.

In Nineteen-Eighty-Nine, Doctor Houghton led scientists who discovered the virus that causes another kind of hepatitis, hepatitis C. He works at the Chiron Corporation in Emeryville, California.

Three scientists shared the Lasker award for basic medical research. One is Alexander Varshavsky of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The others are Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

The three discovered the human body's method of destroying proteins. The process of protein destruction controls normal cell growth and division. When this process does not work properly, diseases like cancer can result. Scientists also are investigating a possible link between this process and diseases of the body's defense system. Sydney Brenner of the Molecular Sciences Institute in Berkeley, California received a Lasker award for special achievement in medical science. The foundation honored him for fifty years of creative work in biomedical science.

For example, Doctor Brenner's team studied the roundworm to show the birth and death of every cell in a living animal. Doctor Brenner also performed research that took the first step toward understanding human genes. He also helped calm fears that research on genetic engineering would create dangerous organisms.

To do this, Doctor Brenner drank bacteria that had been genetically weakened. The experiment proved that such substances would not threaten the public. The results were very important to the study of several deadly viruses, including the one that causes AIDS.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Jerilyn Watson.

Voice of America Special English