Professor Alexander Varshavsky, PhD, Heinrich Wieland Laureate 2017
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA
Alexander Varshavsky, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, USA, receives the 2017 Heinrich Wieland Prize for discovering the biology of the ubiquitin system, a set of pathways mediating, among other things, protein degradation.
Varshavsky revolutionized our view of cellular physiology by showing that regulating protein degradation is as important as regulating protein expression. He identified key mechanisms of the ubiquitin system and the first degradation signals (degrons) in short-lived proteins. He was the first to reveal the biological functions of ubiquitin conjugation, e.g., in the cell cycle, DNA repair, cellular stress responses, protein synthesis, and transcriptional regulation. Varshavsky’s fundamental discoveries gave rise to major biomedical fields and led to new therapies.
Alexander Varshavsky studied chemistry at the Moscow State University, Russia. In 1973, he received a PhD in biochemistry at the Moscow’s Institute of Molecular Biology. He left Russia in 1977 and soon thereafter became a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, USA. Since 1992 he is Smits Professor of Cell Biology at the California Institute of Technology. Varshavsky is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He received a number of major awards, including the Gairdner International Award, the Lasker Award in Medical Research, the Max Planck Award, the Albany Prize, and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.