The annual Pasarow Medical Research Awards, presented by the Los Angeles-based Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation, are designed to recognize distinguished accomplishments in basic and/or clinical research while increasing public awareness of vital areas of investigation.

In 1979, Dr. Hunter, an American Cancer Society professor in the Salk Institute for Biological Studies’ Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, discovered that a biological process called tyrosine phosphorylation is a chemical “on-off” switch that can trigger the uncontrolled division of cells - the hallmark of many cancers.

Discovery of this important signalling mechanism, which proved to be the underlying cause of many types of human cancer, revolutionized cancer research and, ultimately, led to the development of several innovative cancer therapies, as researchers found ways to inhibit the special proteins called tyrosine kinases that are responsible for tyrosine phosphorylation.

Phosphorylation - the addition of a tiny phosphate ion to a large protein molecule - is a common way in which the body turns on or off proteins such as enzymes. Thus, phosphorylation of proteins in cells, which is often triggered by external stimuli, acts as a signaling mechanism for cells to respond to their environment, and in particular to respond to factors that promote cell proliferation.

Dr. Hunter discovered that phosphorylation of tyrosine, one of the 20 amino acids found in proteins, governed how cells multiply. The special proteins that attach phosphate to tyrosine are called tyrosine kinases.

Also receiving Pasarow Awards are Daniel Steinberg, M.D., Ph.D., FAHA Professor and Endowed Chair at the University of California, San Diego, for cardiovascular research, and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Dr. Huda Y. Zoghbi, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, for research in the field of neuropsychiatry.

MEDICA.de; Source: Salk Institute for Biological Studies