2022 Winners of the FNIH Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences Provide Powerful Contributions to Our Understanding of the Aging Process
North Bethesda, MD, April 14, 2022 – The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) has named Anne Brunet, Ph.D., and Andrew Dillin, Ph.D., co-winners of the 2022 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences. Drs. Brunet and Dillin have pioneered independent but complementary research that illustrates the evolution of two master regulators of aging at the cellular level. Dr. Brunet has shown how specific biochemical modifications of the protein structures around which an organism’s DNA is organized can extend its life and that of its descendants. Dr. Dillin has revealed how mitochondria in neurons of the brain coordinate responses throughout the body that impact lifespan.
“The FNIH is delighted to award its 10th annual Lurie Prize to two individuals whose landmark discoveries addressing the genetic and molecular mechanisms of aging provide insights with tremendous potential to improve longevity and quality of life as humans age,” said David Wholley, Interim President and Executive Director of the FNIH. “Age is a primary driver for so many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Drs. Brunet and Dillin are answering questions about fundamental processes both within the cell and across entire organisms that promise to help untangle the mysteries of aging and potentially of some of these diseases.”
Dr. Anne Brunet is the Michele and Timothy Barakett Professor of Genetics at Stanford University, where she also directs the Brunet Lab. To tackle the complexity of aging, she has employed a unique approach that deploys multiple model organisms—including the C. elegans roundworm and the African killifish, whose short lifespans quickly recapitulate the entire aging process—to identify the genes that regulate aging. She has found that by using enzymes to modify the complex bundle of genetic material in a cell’s nucleus called chromatin, which forms a scaffold around which DNA is organized, it is possible to alter the genes that play a role in aging. Dr. Brunet is investigating these partly by studying the lifespan of the killifish, a vertebrate whose circulation, immune, and other body systems mirror those of humans, but whose embryos can exist in a kind of “suspended animation” or state of diapause over many years. Using lab mice, Dr. Brunet has also studied the regenerative qualities of stem cells that exist in the aging brain to identify ways to counter age-related defects that bring on neurodegenerative disease. Her lab’s work with mice has helped identify genes and pathways critical for maintaining neural stem cells that may help preserve brain function during aging.
“Receiving the Lurie Prize means so much to me and to our lab. It also provides wonderful recognition for the field of aging research,” said Dr. Brunet. “Solving the big puzzle of aging is at the core of everything we do, and we hope our work helps amplify the work of other scientists. I’m deeply grateful that the Lurie Prize will help us to move our research forward. One day we hope to be able to slow or reverse aspects of brain decline during aging.”
Dr. Andrew Dillin is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research at the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. His lab focuses on the questions of why an organism begins to lose control over the integrity of its proteome—the full complement of cells produced in the body—as it ages. Understanding that aging is coordinated across the body, Dr. Dillin has explored the function of mitochondria—structures that govern energy production in the cell—as a means of communicating across tissues and organs. His team developed and applied techniques to manipulate signaling pathways that involve specific proteins within a cell to observe how a tiny disturbance may affect the physiology of the whole organism. By reducing mitochondrial function in several cells in the nervous system, Dr. Dillin observed life extension in model systems ranging from worms to mice. Dr. Dillin’s larger goal is to apply his findings toward uncovering new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of age-related pathologies in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases.
“The Lurie Prize greatly validates the work of my lab. Frankly we have always seen ourselves as a bit on the fringe, doing this quirky, funky, basic science that could nevertheless really have an impact on people. Receiving one of the top awards in the field of biomedical research provides a huge boost to our work and to the field of aging research,” said Dr. Dillin. “Our efforts to unlock the architecture and the function of the cell in the context of an entire multicellular organism are an example of basic research that has implications across all of science. I’m also so grateful to be sharing this award with my esteemed colleague Anne Brunet. We started our labs at the same time, and our work ended up complementing and overlapping with each other. The whole world of research in aging has been open to and supportive of us both, and I am thrilled to be contributing to it.”
Now in its 10th year, the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences recognizes outstanding achievement by promising scientists aged 52 or younger. The prize includes a $50,000 honorarium to each awardee, made possible by a donation to the FNIH by philanthropist Ann Lurie, President of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Foundation and President of Lurie Holdings, Inc.
“Drs. Dillin and Brunet are making significant advances toward a better understanding of how individual cells and the human body age, with critical implications for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. I am excited to see the depth, breadth, and future impact of their work,” said Ann Lurie.
A jury of five distinguished biomedical researchers selected Drs. Brunet and Dillin as this year’s Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences recipients. The jury is chaired by Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., Distinguished Service Professor of Neuroscience, Pharmacology & Psychiatry, Founder and past Director of The Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, and Vice Chairman of the FNIH board.
For more information about the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences and a list of previous winners, please visit fnih.org/LuriePrize.
About the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health
The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health creates and manages alliances with public and private institutions in support of the mission of the NIH, the world’s premier medical research agency. The Foundation, also known as the FNIH, works with its partners to accelerate biomedical research and strategies against diseases and health concerns in the United States and across the globe. The FNIH organizes and administers research projects; supports education and training of new researchers; organizes educational events and symposia; and administers a series of funds supporting a wide range of health issues. Established by Congress, the FNIH is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For additional information about the FNIH, please visit fnih.org.