Rudolf Jaenisch honored with March of Dimes Prize

jaenischWhitehead Institute Founding Member Rudolf Jaenisch is the recipient of the 2015 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. The prize honors Jaenisch’s groundbreaking body of work in epigenetics, the development of transgenic animals, and the generation and use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

Among Jaenisch’s landmark contributions to iPS research are the first proof-of-principle experiments that such cells—derived from adult, fully differentiated cells “reprogrammed” to an embryonic stem cell-like state—could one day have therapeutic applications. In two widely-cited studies, Jaenisch’s lab used iPS cells to cure sickle cell anemia in mice and to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in a rat model of the neurodegenerative disorder.

“One day, iPS cells may be used to give sick babies new hearts or cure serious genetic birth defects and other disorders that we can’t even begin to correct today,” says Joe Leigh Simpson, MD, senior vice president for Research and Global Programs at the March of Dimes, which has awarded its Prize in Developmental Biology annually since 1996 to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects.

“Dr. Jaenisch has revolutionized our understanding of epigenetics, that is, the factors that cause changes in our cells and our bodies beyond variations in DNA sequences,” Simpson says. “For example, his work has been crucial to our progress in learning about brain development before and after birth.”

Jaenisch officially received the prize this past Saturday evening in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, where he delivered a special lecture entitled “Epigenetics, Stem Cells, and Disease Research.” The prize includes a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime—a tribute to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes.

Jaenisch is the 20th recipient of the March of Dimes Prize and the second Whitehead Member so honored. Whitehead Director David Page shared the 2011 award with Patricia Ann Jacobs, professor of human genetics at Southampton University Medical School.