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Waterston Among Top International Scientists to Win Gairdner Award; 56 recipients have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize

Darrell E. Ward

April 23, 2002 – Robert H. Waterston, MD, PhD, director of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is one of eight scientists to receive the 2002 Gairdner International Award, which this year recognizes exceptional achievement in genomics science. The Gairdner Foundation of Toronto, Canada, announced the awards today.

Since 1959, the Gairdner International Awards have been presented to 255 scientists, 56 of whom have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. The award recognizes outstanding contributions by medical scientists whose work will significantly improve quality of life.

Waterston, together with Eric S. Lander, Ph.D., professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and head of the Whitehead Institute Center for Genomic Research in Cambridge, MA, and Sir John E. Sulston, Ph.D., founder of the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, were recognized for their "major seminal contributions to sequencing of human and other genomes."

Waterston was instrumental in initiating and bringing to fruition the international Human Genome Project, the effort to identify and map the structure of the DNA in every gene of every human chromosome. A draft version of the genome, available for all to use without constraint, was published in the journal Nature in February 2001. The information provides a genetic blueprint of the makeup of human beings and will help in research to identify the genetic abnormalities responsible for cancer, birth defects and a variety of other human diseases.

In the 1970s and '80s, Waterston, the James S. McDonnell Professor and head of the Department of Genetics at the School of Medicine, helped establish the roundworm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), as a powerful experimental organism. Waterston and Sulston subsequently collaborated to successfully sequence the 97 million genetic letters in the worm's DNA. The work marked the first time that all the genes of an organism of more than one cell had been mapped and sequenced and demonstrated the feasibility of sequencing the human genome.

The project also marked the founding of Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center by Waterston. In addition to its work on the international Human Genome Project and the worm genome, the Center has played leading roles in the sequencing of numerous other genomes It has also been a major contributor of ESTs (Expressed Sequence Tags) to the public databases.

The award will be presented at the annual Gairdner Foundation dinner which takes place in October each year and is usually preceded by a national symposium featuring the year's Gairdner International Award winners.

Established in 1957 by Toronto businessman James Gairdner, the Gairdner Foundation awards have grown to be one of the most prestigious international awards in medical research. Each winner receives $30,000.

The other five recipients of Gairdner International Awards are Phillip P. Green, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and adjunct professor of computer science at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA; Maynard V. Olson, Ph.D., professor of medicine and genetics and adjunct professor of computer science, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., founder of The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), Rockville, MD; Michael S. Waterman, Ph.D., professor of mathematics, of biological sciences, of computer science and university professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA; and Jean Weissenbach, Ph.D., director, Genoscope, French National Sequencing Centre, Paris, France. 
Washington University School of Medicine, Office of Medical Public Affairs, Washington University School of Medicine at Washington University Medical Center, Campus Box 8508, 4444 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis MO 63108-2259, (314) 286-0100 FAX: (314) 286-0199

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