The 2012 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science has been awarded to Yale University professor Joan Steitz, Ph.D., whose pioneering work has helped reveal and clarify the complexities of RNA and the roles that RNA molecules play in health and disease.
The prize, established by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2006, honors nationally and internationally known women scientists who have "a stellar record of research accomplishments" and who have contributed significantly to the mentorship of other women in science.
Prize winners receive a $25,000 honorarium, visit Vanderbilt to meet with faculty and deliver a Discovery Lecture, and serve as mentors to women who are pursuing graduate studies in the biomedical sciences at the School of Medicine.
Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Yale Medical School, will receive the prize on May 2, 2013, when she is scheduled to give a Flexner Discovery Lecture.
"This is our seventh Vanderbilt Prize," said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences at Vanderbilt. "This very innovative prize communicates the explicit value Vanderbilt places on discovery research, mentoring, and women scientists.
"Dr. Steitz's career-long commitment to advancing opportunities for women in science speaks to the purpose of the Prize perfectly," Wente added. "She joins an amazing cohort of former Vanderbilt Prize winners, many of whom found her groundbreaking efforts inspirational to their own careers."
For example, Nancy Andrews, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and winner of the 2010 Vanderbilt Prize, worked in the Steitz lab as an undergraduate.
Steitz initiated a mentoring program for women faculty at Yale Medical School, contributed to an influential report by the National Academies of Science on women in academic science and engineering and is a founding board member of the Rosalind Franklin Society.
She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard in 1967. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, working her way up from assistant professor (1970) to chair of the department (1996-1999).
Steitz is perhaps best known for discovering and defining the function of small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), cellular complexes that play a key role in splicing and processing pre-messenger RNA – the earliest product of DNA transcription.
She has also discovered the roles that snRNPs play in autoimmune diseases such as lupus, and in the ability of herpes and other viruses to invade and replicate within host cells.
Steitz is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. She was selected as the fifth Rosalind E. Franklin Award Lecturer for Women in Science by the National Cancer Institute.
Her awards include the National Medal of Science, the Gairdner Foundation International Award, and the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (shared with Nobel laureate and 2007 Vanderbilt Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D.).
For a complete list of Vanderbilt Prize winners and the 2013 nomination form, go to https://medschool.vanderbilt.edu/dean and click on "Vanderbilt Prize."
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