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2002 Gruber Genetics Prize Press Release

PIONEER IN CELL DEATH, H. ROBERT HORVITZ, WINS INTERNATIONAL GENETICS PRIZE

St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., Nov. 2002 -- A pioneering scientist who led the way in discovering how specific genes cause the programmed death of cells was selected by a panel of renowned geneticists from around the world as the winner of this year's Genetics Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation.

H. Robert Horvitz, this year's winner, is a neurobiologist, developmental biologist, and geneticist. He is the David H. Koch Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. He also is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a geneticist and neurobiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Horvitz received the prize, a gold medal and $150,000 in cash, in ceremonies at John Hopkins University in Baltimore on October 16, 2002.Click here to see photographs of awards ceremony and dinner honoring Dr. Horvitz.

Dr. Horvitz began studying programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis, in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans in the 1970's, later determining that specific genes are responsible for apoptosis. His studies also led to the conclusion that very similar genes and proteins responsible for apoptosis in C. elegans occur in nearly all animals, including humans.

The discoveries have important practical implications. Abnormalities in natural cell death have been identified in human diseases, including some forms of cancer, and scientists believe apoptosis plays a role in many others, possibly including Alzheimer's Disease.

The citation from the Peter Gruber Foundation announcing the selection of Dr. Horvitz as its 2002 prize winner states, "Robert Horvitz, Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been relentless in his use of genetic tools to reveal and dissect mechanisms of human development and behavior. In particular, he defined genetic pathways that are responsible for programmed cell death (apoptosis), a natural process that determines whether cells live or die. His discoveries have profound implications for both understanding and treating human diseases such as cancer and neural degeneration."

Peter Gruber, creator of the Foundation that bears his name, said, "The work of Robert Horvitz over the last quarter century illustrates why our society must value and encourage basic research. From basic research on roundworms in the 1970s, Dr. Horvitz has discovered important mechanisms that will be important in improving human health."

Last year the winner of the Genetics Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation was Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch, a pioneer in the field of using mice to study and develop treatments for human diseases.

The Peter Gruber Foundation

The Peter Gruber Foundation awards a series of prizes annually, recognizing achievements in genetics, cosmology, and justice. The purpose of the Genetics Prize is to acknowledge and encourage progress in a discipline that began more than 135 years ago when Gregor Mendel discovered hereditary laws leading to the science of genetics. It is the world's only award that recognizes individuals who have contributed to fundamental advances in the field of genetics.

The Genetics Advisory Board that selects the winner are: Beverly S. Emanuel, Charles E. H. Upham Professor of Pediatrics and Chief of the Division of Human Genetics and Molecular Biology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Uta Francke, M.D., Professor of Genetics and of Pediatrics at Stanford University; Peter N. Goodfellow, Senior Vice-President, Discovery Research, GlaxoSmithKline; Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch, Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts institute of Technology; Victor A. McKusick, M.D., University Professor of Medical Genetics at John Hopkins University; Leena Peltonen, M.D., Ph.D., Distinguished Chair in Human Genetics, UCLA; and Huntington Willard, Ph.D., President and Director of The Research Institute of the Univesity Hospitals of Cleveland.

The Peter Gruber Foundation is a philanthropic organization, funded solely by Peter Gruber. In addition to its international awards program, it provides funding for many charitable initiatives, principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands where it is located.

The Genetics Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation:

The purpose of the Prize is to acknowledge and encourage progress in a discipline that began 135 years ago when Gregor Mendel discovered hereditary laws leading to the science of genetics. It is the world’s only award that recognizes individuals who have contributed to fundamental advances in the field of genetics.

The creation of the Prize was made public on May 18, 2001 at the tenth International Congress of Human Genetics in Vienna, Austria. In making the formal announcement, Beverly S. Emanuel, the Charles E. H. Upham Professor of Pediatrics and Chief, Division of Human Genetics and Molecular Biology, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, called it a "truly pivotal moment" in the field of genetics.

The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. Last year, the Foundation expanded its philanthropic focus to the creation and awarding of a series of international awards recognizing discoveries and achievements that produce fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture.