UCSC molecular biologist Harry Noller wins 2007 Gairdner Award

Harry Noller

Harry Noller, the Sinsheimer Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is among the five winners of the 2007 Gairdner International Awards, one of the most prestigious awards in biomedical science. The awards were announced on April 13 by Dr. John Dirks, president and scientific director of the Gairdner Foundation.

"The 2007 awards reflect the importance of basic discoveries that lead to a better understanding of human disease and the development of treatments and cures to alleviate them," Dirks said.

Noller, who directs the Center for Molecular Biology of RNA at UCSC, and Thomas Steitz of Yale University were recognized for their identification of the detailed structure and function of the ribosome, a complex molecular machine that carries out protein synthesis in all living cells. Their citation reads, "For their studies on the structure and function of the ribosome which showed that the peptidyl transferase was an RNA catalyzed reaction, and for revealing the mechanism of inhibition of this function by antibiotics."

The other awardees include Dr. Dennis Slamon of UCLA for his work on the breast cancer drug Herceptin; C. David Allis of Rockefeller University for his discovery of the universal mechanisms whereby modifications in specialized proteins called histones affect genome stability and gene transcription; and Kim Nasmyth of Oxford University for a series of discoveries pinpointing the novel mechanisms in cell division that are essential to life.

The Gairdner Awards, founded by the late Toronto businessman James Gairdner, are now in their 48th year. They have grown to be one of the most prestigious international awards for medical research, recognizing outstanding contributions by medical scientists worldwide whose work will significantly improve the quality of life.

Each Gairdner awardee receives $30,000 and a statue (Le Coeur) at a gala dinner that will be held this year on October 25 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. The awardees are chosen through a rigorous two-stage process by two medical advisory committees made up of leading medical scientists from Canada and around the world. Since 2003, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has been the lead national sponsor of the Gairdner Awards.

Noller has received numerous awards and honors for his work, and his laboratory continues to make major advances in understanding how ribosomes work (see earlier story). He earned his bachelor's degree in biochemistry at UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Oregon. Before joining the UCSC faculty in 1968, Noller held postdoctoral positions at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, and the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1992.