PRESS RELEASE: Architect of AIDS and Biodefense Programs Honored with Public Service Award

Architect of AIDS and Biodefense Programs Honored with Public Service Award

NEW YORK – The 2007 Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards were announced today. Now celebrating their 62nd anniversary, the Lasker Awards are the nation’s most distinguished honor for outstanding contributions to basic and clinical medical research, as well as for outstanding public service on behalf of medical research.

The Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research honors Ralph M. Steinman, 64, of the Rockefeller University, New York City, who discovered dendritic cells. These immune cells trigger other components of the immune system to thwart microbial invaders. Steinman's work has opened up novel therapeutic avenues for combating cancer and pathogens.

The Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research honors Alain Carpentier, 74, of Hôpital Europeen Georges Pompidou, Paris, and Albert Starr, 81, of the Providence Health System, Portland (OR), who developed prosthetic mitral and aortic valves. These devices have prolonged and enhanced the lives of millions of people with heart disease, providing treatment where none existed before.

The Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service, awarded bi-annually, honors Anthony S. Fauci, 66, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a component of the National Institutes of Health, for engineering two major U.S. governmental programs, one aimed at AIDS and the other at biodefense.

Often called “America’s Nobels,” the Lasker Award has been given to 72 scientists who subsequently went on to receive the Nobel Prize, including 20 in the last 17 years.

The Awards will be presented at a luncheon ceremony on Friday, September 28th at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Jeffrey Sachs, Ph.D., noted economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, will be the keynote speaker.

Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1985 (both with Dr. Michael Brown) for discoveries regarding cholesterol, is Chair of the international jury of scientists that selects recipients of the Lasker Awards. He explained the significance of this year’s Basic Research and Clinical Research Awards with the following comments:

“More often than not, success in science depends on courage, determination, confidence, and the willingness to ignore conventional wisdom—especially when these traits accompany strong logic. This year’s Lasker Awards honor investigators whose triumphs relied on these characteristics.

"The discovery of dendritic cells by Ralph Steinman broke open an entire field. While most immunologists were studying events that occur after germs trigger an immune response, he focused on the initial steps in that process and came up with an unconventional idea—that the strange, rare dendritic cells he had noticed in spleen preparations stimulated the body's T cells, the key combatants of microbial invaders. Undistracted by popular theories, Steinman doggedly pursued these dendritic cells, establishing that they are our immune system's most potent activators of T cells — something that no one had ever had imagined. Today, many scientists, still led by Steinman, are vigorously exploring an exciting new possibility for dendritic cells — as agents for fighting cancer and AIDS.

"Fifty years ago, heart-valve replacement surgery did not exist. Today, it is the second-most common cardiac surgery in the United States and one of the most successful. The invention of mechanical and tissue-based valves by Albert Starr and Alain Carpentier benefits several hundred thousand people each year, who otherwise would suffer from heart failure or premature death."

Dr. Alfred Sommer, recipient of the 1997 Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research and Dean Emeritus and Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is a member of the Selection Committee for the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and the Health Sciences.  He offered this comment on the 2007 Awardee:

"The Mary Woodard Lasker Public Service Award honors Anthony S. Fauci for the extraordinary way in which he marshaled scientific evidence to construct our nation’s response to two global crises: HIV/AIDS and bioterrorism. Fauci’s passionate, reasoned persuasion led to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, the United States' unprecedented commitment of $15 billion over five years to combat AIDS in some of the most heavily affected countries around the world; and to Project Bioshield, our country’s principal public health effort to protect the nation from the consequences of bioterrorism.  For more than 20 years, U.S. Presidents have sought Fauci’s advice in their formulation of national public-health policy and its execution—and he has played a unique role in explaining issues of great concern to our nation's citizens.”

The Lasker Awards, first presented in 1946, are administered by the Albert & Mary Lasker Foundation. The late Mary Woodard Lasker is widely recognized for her singular contribution to the growth of the National Institutes of Health and her unflagging commitment to government funding of medical research in the hope of curing devastating diseases.  Her support for medical research spanned five decades, during which she was the nation’s foremost citizen-activist on behalf of medical science.

Lasker Award recipients receive an honorarium ($150,000 for each Award), a citation highlighting their achievements, and an inscribed statuette of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Lasker Foundation’s traditional symbol representing humanity’s victory over disability, disease, and death.

The list of the 2007 Lasker Award recipients with their current professional and institutional affiliations follows.  Additional materials, available upon request and at, include:

  • Photos of the Awardees;
  • Interviews with the Awardees;
  • Information about past Awardees; and,
  • Links to Web sites for additional information about the Awardees