Researchers who made groundbreaking discoveries on the inner-workings of cells and the treatment of dialysis for kidney failure were the recipients of the 2002 Lasker Awards for medical research. The awards are viewed by many in the medical profession as the American Nobel Prize.
The director of the U.S. National Institute of Health, Doctor Elias Zerhouni, delivered the keynote address at the 2002 Lasker awards ceremony in New York. Doctor Zerhouni spoke of the social importance of medical research at a time of soaring health care costs in the United States. "I really believe that this effort, this race between knowledge and our ability to extraordinarily influence health care so that it does not become the social burden that it will become is I think a challenge that will define our century and in fact may affect the future of our nation," he said.
All of the Lasker award recipients, who each receive $25,000, were credited with making invaluable contributions to health. The winners for the prize for basic medical research, James Rothman of New York's Sloan-Kettering Institute and Randy Schekman of the University of California at Berkeley, made discoveries in so-called "cellular membrane trafficking," or the transportation of proteins from one part of a cell called an "organelle" to another.
Doctor Michael Brown, who presented the award, said the findings further the understanding of diseases caused by genetic defects and the manufacture of human proteins, hormones and chemicals. "The implications of this work are broad and deep. It gives us the instruction book for the assembly of a cell," he said. "It tells us how organelles are organized. Indeed we can no longer conceive of any cell, normal or diseased, without thinking of the fundamental processes that were uncovered by Jim Rothman and Randy Schekman."
Pioneers in the development of the artificial kidney, or renal hemodialysis were awarded the prize for clinical medical research. The discoveries of doctors Willem Kolff of the University of Utah School of Medicine and Belding Scribner of the University of Washington School of Medicine allow millions of people around the world to live with kidney failure, a previously fatal disease.
Doctor Kolff created his first early dialysis machine as a young doctor struggling under the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. The artificial kidney remains the only artificial device that can replace a vital organ on a permanent basis. At the awards ceremony Doctor Kolff, who is 91-years-old, demonstrated his most recent invention, an artificial lung that uses new pumps and technology for people with pulmonary failure. "At this time there is no such a thing as a wearable artificial lung and I believe that the time has come that we can now [create] that," he said. "Combining them, the new oxigenaters with this type of pump we can make a wearable artificial lung and I have one on here."
The Special Achievement Award went to Doctor James Darnell of New York's Rockefeller University, who revealed differences in the genes of animals and plants from those found in bacteria.
Since it was founded in 1946, 65 recipients of the Lasker awards have gone on to receive the prestigious Nobel Prize. And in the last decade, every scientist Nobel Prize winner had previously received a Lasker Award in medical research.