Lasker/IRRF Partnership:

2015 Lasker Awards, September 2015:

In 2008, the International Retinal Research Foundation entered into a ten-year partnership with the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. Part of this collaboration was to establish the Lasker/IRRF Initiative for Innovation in Vision Science, but another component is to offer support for the annual Lasker Awards that honor outstanding scientists and healthcare advocates who have made a difference in the world of science and medicine.2015marked the 60th year these prestigious Awards have been given to recognize the contributions of scientists, physicians, and public servants who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of human disease.  The IRRF is proud to be part of this program.

The 2015 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honored two scientists for their discoveries concerning the DNA-damage response, a mechanism that protects the genomes of all living organisms.  Evelyn M. Witkin (Rutgers University) established its existence and basic features in bacteria. Stephen J. Elledge (Brigham and Women’s Hospital) uncovered its molecular pathway in more complex organisms.  The details of the two systems differ dramatically, yet they share an overarching principle.  Both coordinate the activity of a large number of genes whose products shield creatures from potentially lethal harm.

The 2015 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honored James P. Allison (University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), who discovered and developed a monoclonal antibody therapy that unleashes the immune system to combat cancer.  By blocking a protein that normally restrains the body’s natural ability to attack tumor cells, Dr. Allison devised a fundamentally new strategy for treating malignancies.  Because this approach targets immune cells rather than specific tumors, it holds great promise to thwart diverse cancers.

Allison’s work has already benefited thousands of people with advanced melanoma, a disease that typically used to kill people in less than a year.  The therapy he conceived has delivered recoveries that last for a decade or more.

The 2015 Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award honored Médecins Sans Frontiéres (Doctors Without Borders) (MSF) for bold leadership in responding to the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa and for sustained and effective frontline responses to health emergencies.  Undeterred by grim and demanding circumstances, its employees and volunteers have worked steadily for decades to fulfill the organization’s mission.  Last year, it undertook a monumental task – a duty that rightly belongs to the international community, not an outfit that is funded primarily by individual donors.

Since 1971, MSF has provided medical assistance and humanitarian aid to the world’s neediest citizens, the organization delivers drugs, healthcare, and other essential resources to people who suffer from crises of war, healthcare, and other essential resources to people who suffer from crises of war, famine, natural disasters, and infectious disease.  It reaches vast numbers of people in troubled areas, in part because it remains politically neutral.

Portions of this article were reprinted with permission from the Lasker Foundation.  For more information: laskerfoundation.org.  Photo credits:  Lasker Foundation and Larry Donoso, MD, PhD.

Evelyn M. Witkin

Stephen J. Elledge

James P. Allison

Joanne Liu, International President of MSF, and staff at the Ebola treatment center in Kailahun, Sierra Leone