Molecular biologist Dr. Anthony Pawson is among this year’s winners of the Kyoto Prize, an international award given annually by Japan’s Inamori Foundation to “honor those who have made significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual development of humanity.” The full press release is available here: Kyoto Prize
Dr. Pawson is primarily being recognized for his research on intercellular communication – the work he’s done that’s helped to understand how to halt certain types of cancer cells from multiplying.
For the last 25 years, Dr. Pawson has studied signal transduction–the way in which cells communicate. His work has revolutionized the understanding of that field and has had a huge impact on almost every aspect of biomedical research.
Science offered limited insights in the late 1970s about oncogenes ― protein-encoding genes that, when mutated, contribute to the onset of cancers. It was known that when oncogenes become activated in cells, the cells begin to divide and grow uncontrollably. What was not known until Dr. Pawson’s research was how the message to divide was transmitted within the cell.
In collaboration with his team, Dr. Pawson was able to identify a site on the proteins, deemed SH2, and recognized its role in transmitting commands that regulate cellular growth. His insights on cancer cell signaling (and how to “switch off” growing cancer cells) have led to effective new approaches to cancer treatment, including the breast cancer targeting Herceptin, and Gleevec, a drug that treats certain types of leukemia.