Health

Laskers—the "American Nobels"—Go to Obesity & Blindness Researchers

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanSep 21, 2010 9:26 PM

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The winners of the Lasker Awards, the top medical prizes given out in the United States, were announced today.

The Laskers, awarded by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, are $250,000 awards generally regarded as good predictors of who will go on to win a Nobel Prize for medicine or chemistry. [ABC News]

The driver of obesity Douglas Coleman and Jeffrey Friedman took home the prize in the first category, basic medical research. The pair discovered leptin

, a hormone that governs body weight and appetite. Its discovery helped to explain parts of obesity

that had never been understood. Last year the two men split the million-dollar Shaw Prize

for the achievement. Next up, a Nobel? We'll see when the medicine and physiology awards are announced on October 4.

But now I see

Napoleone Ferrara, a Genentech

scientist, took the prize for clinical medical research. His research

led to the first treatments that either stopped or even partially reversed the age-related loss of eyesight in older people. in the form of the eye-injected drug Lucentis

that has been in use since 2006.

Ferrara discovered a protein that plays a key role in age-related macular degeneration, then created an antibody to fight that protein, resulting in the first significantly effective treatment for the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. His research addressed wet macular degeneration, not the more common, but less devastating, dry macular degeneration. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Blood genetics

The third and final Lasker is the special achievement award, given this year to Sir David Weatherall. A half-century of research helped Weatherall, an emeritus researcher from the University of Oxford, unravel the causes of genetic disorders in the blood, such as thalassaemia.

Thalassaemia is a set of inherited blood disorders that affect the body's ability to create red blood cells and can lead to anaemia of different severities. As well as using a range of approaches to determine the molecular and genetic causes of thalassaemia, Sir David has been able to improve clinical treatment of the disease and improve care, particularly in the developing world. [BBC News]

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Images: Lasker Foundation

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