NEW YORK, March 27, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Peter Walter was chosen as winner of the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science for his pioneering work on how proteins are transported between cellular compartments and for unraveling the components of a regulatory mechanism that cells use to handle stress tied to the aggregation of misshapen proteins. Dr. Walter is a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. His research lays the groundwork for treating a range of human diseases related to defective protein folding and transport.
Over nearly four decades, Dr. Walter's work in cell biology has led to a fundamental understanding of important elements of the process by which proteins are ferried from their place of manufacture in cells to the final destinations where they function. During the 1980s, Dr. Walter discovered a molecular apparatus in cells called the signal recognition particle, which facilitates the transport of newly minted proteins across a cellular compartment called the endoplasmic reticulum by homing in on address tags on the proteins. Dr. Walter's steadfast investigations into the structure, versatility, and conservation of the apparatus across different forms of life have afforded crucial insights into factors that govern cellular compartmentalization and function. The significance of these findings is borne out by the large number of human diseases tied to disrupted protein transport in cells; treating such diseases requires a basic understanding of the underlying cellular processes that have gone awry.
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Walter added to our growing appreciation of how cells handle stress tied to the buildup of improperly folded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum. Working with yeast as a model organism, Dr. Walter and Kyoto University molecular biologist Kazutoshi Mori simultaneously identified key elements of the signaling mechanism underlying the "unfolded protein response." Dr. Walter's findings on the unfolded protein response bear implications for the treatment of human diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, cystic fibrosis, and multiple myeloma.
Peter Walter moved from his native Berlin to the United States in 1976 and earned a PhD in 1981 under the tutelage of Rockefeller University cell biologist and Nobel Prize winner Gunter Blobel. He accepted a faculty position at the University of California, San Francisco, in 1983. The seminal nature of Dr. Walter's accomplishments is evidenced by his many honors. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences, the European Molecular Biology Organization, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His work has earned him the 2009 Gairdner International Award, the 2014 Shaw Prize, and the 2014 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.
About the Vilcek Foundation:
The Vilcek Foundation was established in 2000 by Jan and Marica Vilcek, immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia. The mission of the foundation, to honor the contributions of foreign-born scholars and artists living in the United States, was inspired by the couple's careers in biomedical science and art history, respectively, as well as their personal experiences and appreciation for the opportunities they received as newcomers to this country. The foundation awards annual prizes to immigrant biomedical scientists and artists and sponsors cultural programs such as the Hawaii International Film Festival. To learn more, please visit Vilcek.org.
About the Vilcek Prizes:
The Vilcek Foundation believes that immigrant contributions are invaluable to advancing the American arts, sciences, and culture. Now in their tenth year, the Vilcek Foundation Prizes pay tribute to and spotlight individuals whose accomplishments embody this belief. The Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science honors a researcher with records of major achievement in her or his field. The winner of the prize is awarded a $100,000 unrestricted cash prize and an unique trophy designed by Austrian-born designer Stefan Sagmeister. The Vilcek Prizes for Creative Promises in Biomedical Science, established seven years ago, commend young immigrant scientists who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the early stages of their careers. The winners each receive a $50,000 unrestricted cash prize and a certificate designed by Stefan Sagmeister. All prizewinners will be honored at a ceremony in New York City in April 2015.
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SOURCE The Vilcek Foundation