2021 Lasker Awards highlight the Invaluable Role of Animal Research

September 29th 2021

The Lasker Awards are among the most prestigious prizes in medicine in the U.S. Awarded annually, these awards given by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation serve to “shine a spotlight on fundamental biological discoveries and clinical advances that improve human health, and to draw attention to the importance of public support of science.” The Lasker awards are so highly regarded, they have been nicknamed “America’s Nobels.”

In past years, the Lasker Awards have regularly featured scientists who rely on animals in their research. This year is no exception. Here are the recipients of the 2021 Lasker Awards and the animals that made their discoveries possible.

Basic Medical Research Award

This year’s Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award honors three scientists, Dieter Oesterhelt, Peter Hegemann and Karl Deisseroth, for the discovery of light-sensitive microbial proteins that can activate or silence individual brain cells and for their use in developing optogenetics, a revolutionary technique for neuroscience.

This year’s Basic Research Award is a perfect example of how a basic science discovery in single cell organisms, complemented with research in animals such as frogs and mice, can shift the landscape of scientific discovery to applied research. For example, Deisseroth’s student Viviana Gradinaru used the technique being awarded here to further probe how deep-brain stimulation exerts its therapeutic effects on Parkinson’s patients. It also highlights nicely, the #Timescales that are often involved in bringing basic research from bench to bedside. It is often the case that the basis scientific discovery that makes for application to humans is made possible by animal research, #MPAR, and is often overlooked and underemphasized in news/press/award releases.

Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award

The 2021 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors two scientists—Katalin Karikó (BioNTech) and Drew Weissman (University of Pennsylvania)—who discovered a new therapeutic technology based on the modification of messenger RNA. This breakthrough enabled rapid development of highly effective Covid-19 vaccines. In addition to providing a tool for quelling a devastating pandemic, the innovation is fueling progress toward treatments and preventives for a range of different illnesses.

For further information on the decades of animal research that made this all possible, please see here.

Lasker~Koshland Award

The 2021 Lasker~Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science honors David Baltimore (California Institute of Technology), one of the premier biomedical scientists of the last five decades, who is renowned for the breadth and beauty of his discoveries in virology, immunology, and cancer.  His research depended heavily on the use of various animal models including mice, rats, and non-human primates.

 ~Speaking of Research

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