“We are thrilled to be honored,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Foundation of America, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood has substantially improved health outcomes for women – and we will keep fighting for our patients, no matter what.”
A Revolutionary Vaccine
Dr. Douglas R. Lowy and Dr. John T. Schiller received the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for technological advances that enabled the development of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, such as Gardasil, which are typically given to adolescents before they are sexually active. The award is a high-profile endorsement of the vaccine, which has been adopted at lower rates in the United States than other childhood vaccines.
According to a statement from the Lasker Foundation, the pair “took a bold but calculated approach toward a major public-health problem whose solution required them to vault formidable hurdles.”
Since the vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006, it has been introduced in dozens of countries. The possibility for impact, many believe, is highest in the developing world where cervical cancer continues to be a primary killer and the possibility of catching HPV early through a Pap smear – as often happens countries with more advanced health care systems — is unlikely.
Despite its proven effectiveness and an increase in nationwide HPV immunization rates, some states have lagged behind. In Kansas, for example, only 51 percent of girls and 36 percent of boys have received the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Explanations tend to highlight the fact that parents may be uncomfortable vaccinating their children for something that is associated with a sexually transmitted disease.
Dr. Lowy and Dr. Schiller, who have been working together for about 30 years at the National Institutes of Health, said that the award highlighted what is possible when the government funds scientific research.
“It’s a classic example where we did something that companies weren’t doing because it was too risky,” said Dr. Schiller, referring to the perceived likelihood of failure.
Making a vaccine does not come down to one big aha moment; rather, it is a sequence of encouraging developments, they said. One sign that they were on the right path came in the 1990s when Dr. Lowy walked into a lab in Paris, where he was collaborating with the Pasteur Institute, and took a look at their rabbits.
Those in one group were spotted with warts, caused by the papilloma virus, while the rabbits in the group that had been given the vaccine did not have a single blemish.
“It was really dramatic,” said Dr. Lowy.
Dr. Schiller said a high point in his career was taking his daughter to get the vaccine he helped create.
“We first came up with the idea of the vaccine when she was born and it became available when she was 13 years old,” he said. “So, that’s how long it took to develop the commercial vaccine.”
Upending the Cell Paradigm
Dr. Michael N. Hall received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for figuring out that cell growth is controlled by the nutrient-activated TOR protein. This growth regulator plays a role in life span and diseases, including diabetes and cancer, and the breakthrough has been praised for its far-reaching medical implications.
“Cells are the unit of life, but I think they define life,” said Dr. Hall, in a video produced by the Lasker Foundation, adding that “I like science and I think science likes me.”
The awards will be presented in Manhattan on Friday September 15.
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