March of Dimes awards $250,000 prize to pioneers in genetic research

May 05, 2003

SEATTLE, MAY 5, 2003 - Two pioneering scientists, whose discoveries about hormones and their genetic messengers led to the development of new drugs for cancer and metabolic disease, were named co-recipients of this year's March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.

Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D., Professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory and March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, and Pierre Chambon, M.D., Professor and Director of the Institute for Genetics and Cellular and Molecular Biology, CNRS/INSERM, Strasbourg, France, discovered nuclear hormone receptors, revealed their structure and function, and defined their central role in human physiology.

The Prize is a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes, says Dr. Evans and Prof. Chambon are being honored by the March of Dimes for research that has had enormous medical signficance. "Dr. Evans and Prof. Chambon have illuminated the roles of nuclear hormone receptors in human health and disease," Dr. Howse says. "Their discoveries opened up productive new areas of study in endocrinology and physiology and led directly to the development of new treatments for pediatric disorders, endocrine-related cancers, diabetes, and other serious illnesses."

Nuclear hormone receptors are complex proteins that help regulate activity of genes located in the nuclei of our cells. These receptors act as go-betweens for hormones, which need their cooperation to send instructions to targeted genes - telling these genes when to be active, how much product they should make, and which specific tissue or organs to affect. It is through interaction with these receptors that hormones exercise control of many functions essential to life and health, including metabolism, reproduction, growth, and cell differentiation.

Prof. Chambon's work has particularly focused on the mechanisms that cells create by mixing and matching multiple receptor molecules that mediate signaling by retinoic acid (the active derivative of vitamin A) and its chemical relatives. His research has provided some of the most important contributions to our understanding of the consequences of vitamin A deficiency during prenatal development and childhood. A major discovery by Prof. Chambon was the finding in mice that the retinoids exert control over embryonic development by acting on homeogenes, those vital genes at the top of the hierarchy of gene regulation often called the body's blueprint for development.

Dr. Evans has focused his attention on the signaling pathway that links steroids, retinoids, and thyroid hormones to the regulation of gene expression, providing control over many fundamental aspects of physiology including sugar, salt and fat metabolism, basal metabolic rate, and reproduction. His research provided the first direct evidence that nuclear hormones act through a unitary signaling pathway, and revealed a central paradigm for the transcriptional control of physiology. This marked an important advance by establishing unique roles for the nuclear hormone receptors in cancer and metabolic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and atherosclerosis, and providing new targets for therapeutic approaches to these disorders.

The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology is awarded annually to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects. The March of Dimes created the Prize as a tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk shortly before his death in 1995.

The Prize will be awarded to Dr. Evans and Prof. Chambon at a black tie dinner and ceremony here tonight. Greg Gumbel, host and play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, and a member of the March of Dimes National Board of Trustees, will host the event.

Dr. Evans and Prof. Chambon also will deliver the eighth annual March of Dimes Prize Lectures during the 2003 Annual Meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies here.
-end-
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies.

For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at www.marchofdimes.com, its Spanish Web site at www.nacersano.org, or call 1-888-MODIMES.

March of Dimes Foundation

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