Obesity and blindness researchers win U.S. Lasker awards

Researchers who discovered a hormone intimately linked to obesity, who found a protein linked to a common form of blindness and who worked on genetic blood diseases won the 2010 Lasker awards on Tuesday.

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.

This year’s Laskers honor:

* Douglas Coleman of Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine and Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University in New York, for the discovery of leptin, a hormone linked to appetite and obesity.

* Napoleone Ferrara of South San Francisco-based Genentech, now a subsidiary of Swiss pharma giant Roche, who discovered how to use cancer drugs called VEGF inhibitors to stop the blood vessel overgrowth that causes wet macular degeneration. Roche now markets a drug called Lucentis to treat this leading cause of blindness.

* David Weatherall, retired honorary director of the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at Britain’s University of Oxford, “for five decades of statesmanship in biomedical sciences exemplified by his discoveries concerning genetic diseases of the blood and for leadership in improving clinical care throughout the world benefiting children afflicted with the genetic blood disorder thalassemia”.

“In granting these awards, the Lasker Foundation honors those who were willing to defy conventional wisdom and blaze new trails of inquiry that led to a startling new treatment for blindness, a solid understanding of the genetic causes underlying obesity and profound advances in clinical care for blood disorders that afflict children throughout the world’s poorest countries,” Joseph Goldstein, who led the awards jury, said in a statement.



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