Dr. Arthur L Horwich, Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, was recently awarded the Shaw Prize for elucidating the role of chaperonins in protein folding. This prize was shared with collaborator Ulrich Hartl from Max Planck Institute, Martinsreid, Germany. The one million-dollar Shaw Prize, awarded in Hong Kong, distinguishes scientific breakthroughs throughout the world that enhance societal progress. Three prizes are given annually, one each in the categories of Astronomy, Life Science and Medicine, and Mathematical Sciences. The Life Science and Medicine award was presented to Horwich in September for his research revealing important mechanisms of protein folding. His research found that the protective environment created for proteins by chaperonins allows for efficient and undisturbed formation.
After first publishing this research in 1989, Horwich became a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Over the past twenty years, Horwich has worked with biochemical reconstitution, X-ray crystallography, and genetic manipulation techniques to build upon his initial findings. This early discovery holds great importance for research today on complications associated with protein malformation.
Currently, Horwich’s lab is studying neurodegenerative diseases that are associated with protein malformation. Indeed, Horwich posed a question that demonstrates the new goal of his laboratory: “If molecular chaperones [are] so good at helping our proteins fold, then why do we have neurodegenerative diseases?” Horwich hopes that studying protein folding in neurons will help develop the understanding of medical issues such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease of the malformation in neurons which control voluntary muscle movement.