The Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) has announced that its 2019 HFSP Nakasone Award will be awarded to Michael Hall, Ph.D., of the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in Switzerland, for his discovery of the master regulator of cell growth, the target of rapamycin (TOR) kinase. Discovery of TOR allowed scientists to better understand cell growth and its importance in development, aging and disease.
The HFSP Nakasone Award was established to honor scientists who have made key breakthroughs in fields at the forefront of the life sciences. It recognizes the vision of Japan’s former Prime Minister Nakasone in the creation of the international science funding organization.
Michael Hall discovered the highly conserved, nutrient-activated protein kinase TOR, and subsequently elucidated its role as a central controller of cell growth. This led to a fundamental change in scientists’ understanding and appreciation of cell growth. It is not a spontaneous process that just happens when conditions favor growth, but rather a highly regulated, plastic process controlled by TOR-dependent signaling pathways. As a central controller of cell growth, TOR plays a key role in development and aging, and is implicated in various disorders including cancer, cardiovascular disease, allograft rejection, obesity and diabetes. Rapamycin is used in the clinic in three of the above major therapeutic areas, and several new mammalian TOR (mTOR) inhibitors are currently being evaluated as anti-cancer drugs.
“Michael Hall’s groundbreaking work expands the frontiers of science and enables us to begin to understand how cell growth determines human development, how we experience aging over our lifespan and the role that it plays in the likelihood we will develop diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” said Warwick P. Anderson, Ph.D., HFSPO Secretary-General. “This stellar research has spawned a whole new field of inquiry and has far-reaching implications to advance scientific understanding and improve human health.”
Since the initial discovery, TOR-related research has expanded to include the basic research community, medical researchers and the pharmaceutical industry. Michael Hall is its founder and has remained a major leader in this highly competitive field for over 25 years. His recent work continues to focus on mechanisms of mTOR signaling, elucidating the roles of mTOR in metabolic tissues and tumors. The aim of the work on metabolic tissues is to understand how mTOR controls whole body growth and metabolism. The goal of the tumor research, in mice and humans, is to understand mechanisms of tumorigenesis and evasive resistance to targeted cancer therapies. In summary, Hall's studies on TOR have spanned yeast to human to elucidate fundamentally and clinically important biology.
Hall has been a researcher and faculty member at the University of Basel since 1987, and served as Vice-Director of the Biozentrum from 2002 to 2009, and from 2013 to 2016. A Swiss citizen born in Puerto Rico, Hall received his Ph.D. from Harvard and completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the University of California, San Francisco.
You can read more on the 2019 HFSP Nakasone Award here.
The HFSP Nakasone Award was established in 2010. Previous recipients are Karl Deisseroth (2010), Michael Elowitz (2011), Gina Turrigiano (2012), Stephen Quake (2013), Uri Alon (2014), James Collins (2015), Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier (2016), David Julius (2017) and Svante Pääbo (2018).
The Human Frontier Science Program was founded in 1989 to advance international research and training at the frontier of the life sciences. It is supported by contributions from the G7 nations, together with Switzerland, Australia, India, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Republic of Korea and the European Union. With its collaborative research grants and postdoctoral fellowships, the program has issued over 4000 awards involving more than 7000 scientists from all over the world. The HFSP supports research at the interface between the life sciences and the physical sciences, and places special emphasis on creating opportunities for young scientists.