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Scientist receives March of Dimes Developmental Biology Prize

Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch honored for establishing basis of iPS cells

March of Dimes Foundation

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IMAGE: Rudolf Jaenisch, M.D., Whitehead Institute Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, Mass. is the 2015 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology honoree. view more

Credit: Whitehead Institute

San Diego, CA, April 27, 2015 - Rudolf Jaenisch, MD, who laid the groundwork for the development and use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells - stem cells derived directly from adult tissue -- to potentially treat and cure a variety of human diseases, has received the 20th anniversary March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology.

Dr. Jaenisch is a founding member of the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

"IPS cells hold great promise in the field of regenerative medicine because they can give rise to every other cell type in the body and reproduce indefinitely. One day, iPS cells may be used to give sick babies new hearts or cure serious genetic birth defects and other disorders that we can't even begin to correct today," says Joe Leigh Simpson, MD, senior vice president for Research and Global Programs at the March of Dimes.

Dr. Jaenisch's earliest breakthrough was the co-development of the first transgenic animals in the 1980s, when he worked with Beatrice Mintz, MD, a co-recipient of the first-ever March of Dimes Prize.

In 2007, the Jaenisch lab was one of three labs worldwide that successfully used cells from mouse tails and reprogrammed them into iPS cells. Dr. Jaenisch later used iPS cells to treat sickle-cell anemia in mice, the first proof of a possible therapeutic use of iPS cells. He also used neurons from iPS cells and integrated them into fetal mouse brains, reducing symptoms of Parkinson's disease

"Dr. Jaenisch has revolutionized our understanding of epigenetics, that is, the factors that cause changes in our cells and our bodies beyond variations in DNA sequences," says Dr. Simpson. "For example, his work has been crucial to our progress in learning about brain development before and after birth."

Dr. Jaenisch earned his medical degree at the University of Munich in Germany. He later immigrated to the United States and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University and as an assistant research professor at the Salk Institute.

Dr. Jaenisch will deliver the 20th annual March of Dimes Lecture titled: "Epigenetics, Stem Cells and Disease Research" at the San Diego Convention Center during the Pediatric Academy Societies annual meeting. He will receive the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology at a gala black-tie dinner and ceremony at the Omni Hotel, in San Diego. CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel, member of the March of Dimes national Honorary Board of Trustees, is expected to host the award ceremony.

Individuals who receive the March of Dimes Prize are leaders in the field of developmental biology. Their pioneering research offers hope for the prevention and treatment of some of the most serious birth defects and other diseases.

The March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been awarded annually since 1996 to investigators whose research has profoundly advanced the science that underlies the understanding of birth defects. The March of Dimes Foundation created the Prize as a tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk shortly before his death in 1995. Dr. Salk received Foundation support for his work on the polio vaccine. The prize is a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, honoring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, March of Dimes founder.

In its 20-year history, the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology has been the crowning glory of a distinguished research career or a stepping stone on the path toward future honors for researchers.

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The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. For more than 75 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. Find out how you can help raise funds to prevent premature birth and birth defects by walking in March for Babies at marchforbabies.org. Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Elizabeth Lynch, (914) 997-4286, ELynch@marchofdimes.org Michele Kling, (914) 997-4613, MKling@marchofdimes.com

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