Columbia University awards 2006 Horwitz Prize to biologist who explained gene transcription

Roger D. Kornberg of Stanford helped show how cells transform genomic code into proteins; Dr. Kornberg is 2006 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry

New York, NY October 4, 2006 Columbia University will award the 2006 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize to structural biologist Roger D. Kornberg, Ph.D., Winzer Professor in Medicine at the Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Kornberg will be honored for his work revolutionizing our understanding of gene transcription, the first step in transforming the genomic code in the cell into proteins, which run the cell.

It was also announced today that Dr. Kornberg has won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

"Dr. Kornberg's research is fundamental in pointing the way to innovative therapies for cancer, heart disease and other illnesses in which there is disturbance of genetic activity," said Lee Goldman, M.D., executive vice president of Columbia University and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. "His work represents exactly the type of scientific activity that we are proud to honor with the Horwitz Prize."

"We are pleased to continue our Horwitz tradition by awarding this year's prize to Roger Kornberg," said David Hirsh, Ph.D., executive vice president for research at Columbia University. "His groundbreaking work has been central to explaining the fundamental basis of gene regulation."

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize was established by Columbia University to recognize outstanding contributions to basic research in the fields of biology and biochemistry. Awarded annually since 1967, the prize was named for the mother of Columbia benefactor S. Gross Horwitz. Louisa Gross Horwitz was daughter of Dr. Samuel David Gross, author of "A System of Surgery" and a founder of the American Medical Association. For additional information about the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, visit: http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/horwitz.

"I'm pleased to receive this prestigious recognition, and am delighted to share the honor with some of the most distinguished scientific minds in the United States," said Dr. Kornberg. "As a Horwitz Prize winner, I will be joining an outstanding group of the world's leading scientists and scholars, and it's truly an honor to be counted among them."

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize Lectures, where Dr. Kornberg will give presentations about his research, will be held on Tuesday, November 21. The first lecture will be at noon in Davis Auditorium in Shapiro Hall (500 West 120th Street, Campus Level) at Columbia University's Morningside Campus. The second lecture will be given at 3pm in the College of Physicians & Surgeons building (650 West 168th Street), Alumni Auditorium, at Columbia University Medical Center. For more information about the lectures, visit http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/events/deanlectures/.

"Perhaps more than any other single researcher, Dr. Kornberg's work lets us understand the first step in how information in the genome comes to life," said Andrew R. Marks, M.D., chair of the Horwitz Prize Committee, as well as the Wu Professor of Molecular Cardiology and chairman of the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The genome is silent, Dr. Kornberg says, until molecular machines in the cell transform genomic code into proteins. But even though all cells in a multi-cellular organism contain the same genome, different types of cells look and act differently.

Normal skin, blood and brain cells vary from each other because each uses a different assortment of genes that are turned on and off at precise moments. Disease often occurs when genes are turned on or off at the wrong moments, so a better understanding of what controls gene expression may eventually lead to better ways to improve human health.

Dr. Kornberg's efforts to understand what controls gene expression have focused on the very first step in the transformation of genomic information into proteins. During transcription numerous molecules come together in a huge complex, called RNA polymerase II, to read the gene's DNA code and copy it onto a messenger RNA. The messenger RNA is later shipped outside the nucleus where the next steps occur.

Much of Dr. Kornberg's work over the last 30 years has revealed the identity of many of the molecules in the RNA polymerase II complex and many others that interact with the complex. In a technical tour de force he also determined what the entire complex looks like and how the different parts work together to create mRNA.

"These extraordinary 'pictures' of transcription in action open the door to understanding what controls transcription, and therefore, what controls gene expression," said Dr. Marks.

Dr. Kornberg has received worldwide accolades and numerous awards for his breakthrough studies--including the 2001 Hoppe-Seyler Award from the Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Germany, the 2001 Welch Award in Chemistry, the 2002 Merck Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the 2002 Le Grand Prix, from the Academie des Sciences in France, the 2005 General Motors Cancer Research Award and the 2006 Dickson Prize from the University of Pittsburgh.

He has been further acknowledged with appointments to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Japanese Biochemical Society, and the European Molecular Biology Organization. He has also served on the editorial boards of Cell, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Annual Review of Biochemistry, Structure, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

A graduate of Harvard University (B.S., Chemistry, 1967), Dr. Kornberg received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University in 1972, and was at the MRC Laboratory in Cambridge, England from 1972 to 1975.

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