Geneticist Fred Alt will be awarded the 44th Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Biomedical Science by Brandeis University for his pioneering research exploring the mechanisms of genomic instability and its implications for the immune system and cancer cells. Alt is the second alumnus to win the Rosenstiel Award; the first, Rod McKinnon, won the Nobel Prize in 2003.
Alt is the Charles A. Janeway Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Boston Children's Hospital. He also directs the program in cellular molecular medicine at Children's Hospital Boston.
Sometimes it pays to have genomic rearrangements. In a healthy immune system, antibody genes are purposefully mutated, broken and recombined by programmed mechanisms in order to diversify and strengthen the immune response. But sometimes, this process can go wrong and result in chromosomal abnormalities and cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas.
Alt explores the mechanisms by which particular gene regions are activated for rearrangement and how distant broken DNA segments are joined together, both in healthy immune systems and deadly cancer cells. In four decades in the lab, Alt's research has led the way in expanding understanding of how genomic instability can lead to tumors and lymphomas. His work continues to unveil the complex mechanisms of chromosomal maintenance and the consequences of their inactivation.
"Fred Alt is one of the most inventive and perceptive scientists I know, said James Haber, director of the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center at Brandeis. "His work has provided a framework on which many others have built to gain a deep understanding of the immune system and the sources of chromosomal translocations and amplifications in cancer."
Established in 1972, the Rosenstiel Award highlights the important role educational institutions play in encouraging and developing basic science. It is presented annually to leading scientists who have made discoveries of particular originality and importance to basic medical research. Many Rosenstiel winners have gone on to win the Lasker and Nobel Prizes.
The Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Biomedical Science consists of a cash prize and a medal. Alt will officially receive the award in a ceremony April 13, 2015.