The 12th annual Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences has been awarded to Brandeis professors Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall and their colleague Michael Young of Rockefeller University for the discovery of the molecular mechanisms governing circadian rhythms.
"The molecular network discovered by these researchers imparts cyclic behavior to many biological processes including sleep and wakefulness, metabolism and even the response to drugs," said Professor Günter Blobel, chairman of the awards jury for the Wiley Prize and a 1999 Nobel Prize winner.
Their research could ultimately lead to the development of drugs to treat sleep disorders, physical and mental illness, and even jet lag.
Five previous Wiley Prize winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in either physiology or medicine.
Rosbash and Hall spent more than three decades at Brandeis collaboratively researching circadian rhythms, the biological clock which governs functions such as sleep and wakefulness, metabolism and hormone levels in organisms as simple as fruit flies and as complex as humans.
"We were incredibly fortunate to have advanced this problem in the remarkable way things have turned out," says Rosbash. "Jeff and I, as well as Mike Young at Rockefeller, began these studies in the fruit fly with no certainty -- in my case, no expectation -- that the fly clockworks would be essentially identical in humans. So our work not only turned out to be interesting but also potentially important. How lucky can three guys get?"
Their research uses the fruit fly Drosophila, a model organism valued for almost a century because of its relative genetic simplicity and its wide range of behaviors. At the molecular level, circadian rhythms use the same genes and are regulated in much the same way in all animals, including humans. Rosbash and Hall cloned the first Drosophila circadian clock gene in 1984.
"The discoveries they made in terms of identifying the first circadian clock genes is really a landmark in understanding how genes regulate behavior, and understanding our own 24-hour rhythms that seem to regulate so much of our biology," says Ravi Allada, professor and chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Northwestern University, who worked in the Rosbash Lab from 1995 to 2000.
Amita Sehgal, the John Herr Musser Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said the trio's groundbreaking research "opened up the whole field of circadian rhythms and inspired people like me to go into it."
"I'm really glad that they're getting recognized for it. It's a tremendous honor for them, but also for the field," said Sehgal, who worked as a post-doc in Young's lab at Rockefeller.
The Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences has recognized work that opens new fields of research or advanced novel concepts or their applications in a particular biomedical discipline.
This year's award will be presented to Rosbash, Hall and Dr. Young on April 5 at Rockefeller University in New York City.
The Wiley Foundation and the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences were established in 2001 to acknowledge the contributions of the scholarly community to the success of Wiley, the largest publisher for professional and scholarly societies.