France's Grande Médaille D'Or Goes to Ronald Ewans

Ronald M. Evans; © Salk Institute

Evans, Ph.D., professor and head of the Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the 2004 recipient of the prestigious Lasker Award for Basic Médical Research, will receive the Grand Gold Medal this November at the French Academy of Sciences in Paris.

In 1985 Evans discovered the first blueprint of a series of genetic switches, known as receptors, that are able to control how the body uses sugar and fat. This blueprint led to the isolation of 48 related switches known as a genetic superfamily. These switches are triggered by various hormones and nutrients including vitamins A and D, testosterone and other sex steroids, cholesterol and certain herbal extracts.

Dr. Evans' and his colleagues' characterisation of the function of the receptor family has improved our understanding of the molecular basis of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and syndrome X, a disorder characterized by high blood pressure, heart disease and insulin resistance. Prior to Evans' research, it was not realised that fat-soluble steroid hormones and dietary fats would use a common strategy to communicate to genes inside a cell's nucleus. They all rely on receptor molecules inside the cell's nucleus that function as on/off switches for genes as soon as they bind to a hormone molecule.

By illuminating the structures of the nuclear hormone receptors and the pathways that they use to signal the genes in the nucleus of the trillions of cells of the human body, Evans and his colleagues have provided a roadmap for clinical scientists to develop new, more effective and safe drugs. His gene activation technique has been deployed in nearly every pharmaceutical company and has led to the discovery, development and approval of drugs for the treatment of cancer, obesity and osteoporosis.; Source: Salk Institute