Posted on: April 7, 2020
Former UVA School of Medicine Professor C. David Allis, PhD, was recognized as the 2018 recipient of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, widely regarded as America’s top prize in biomedical research.
Allis’ pioneering research established that enzymes that modify histone proteins, which package DNA in the nucleus, regulate gene expression. He shared the prize with Michael Grunstein of the University of California, Los Angeles, whose work was complementary to Allis’.
Established in 1945, the Lasker Award is the nation’s most distinguished honor for basic and clinical medical research. Eighty-seven Lasker laureates have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize.
Allis, who joined Rockefeller University in 2003 and is the Joy and Jack Fishman Professor and head of the Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics, studies chromatin, the complex of DNA wrapped around clusters of histone proteins to form nucleosomes. This packaging mechanism allows the two meters of DNA in every human cell to be efficiently stored in the nucleus, with this packaging only opened up when genes are called upon to be expressed. Histone modifications play key roles in facilitating or restricting access of specific genes to the proteins required for gene expression, promoting either gene activation or repression.
“This work has taken off in a way I would never have thought possible when we began our studies of histones in the 1990s,” Allis said. “I am excited every day about the possibilities presented by our growing understanding of this remarkable system, and I am humbled and deeply honored to be recognized by the Lasker Foundation.”
Allis has previously been on the faculties of the University of Virginia, the University of Rochester, Syracuse University, and Baylor College of Medicine. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Cincinnati in 1973 and his Ph.D. in biology from Indiana University in 1978.
In addition to the Lasker Award, Allis has received numerous scientific honors including the 2007 Canada Gairdner International Award, the 2011 Rosenstiel Award, the 2014 Japan Prize, and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.