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Joan Argetsinger Steitz ’63 Honored as Lasker Laureate

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The 2018 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science has been given to Dr. Joan Argetsinger Steitz ’63 for her four decades of leadership in biomedical science—exemplified by pioneering discoveries in RNA biology, generous mentorship of budding scientists, and vigorous and passionate support of women in science. Steitz is the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University and investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Over the last four decades, Steitz pioneered the field of RNA biology and became widely recognized as a passionate advocate for greater inclusion of women in the scientific community. In her research, Steitz discovered that small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) play a central role in splicing, a key step in gene expression. During this process, cells create the RNA templates used to manufacture proteins. A complicated molecular machine with a core composed of snRNPs cuts out internal sections of precursor messenger RNAs and reconnects the ends to create the final messages.

While carrying out her research, Steitz has dedicated herself to teaching and mentoring young scientists and advocating for women in science. For ten years, Steitz led the Jane Coffin Childs Fund, which grants postdoctoral fellowships to early career researchers. In 2005, she co-authored the influential National Academy of Sciences report, “Beyond Bias and Barriers.” Throughout her career, she has tirelessly campaigned for the full inclusion and support of all members of the scientific community and inspired countless women in STEM careers.

For 73 years, the Lasker Awards, America’s most prestigious biomedical research awards (often referred to as the “American Nobel”) have recognized the contributions of leaders who made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of human disease. Recipients of the Lasker Medical Research Awards are selected by a distinguished international jury chaired by Joseph L. Goldstein, recipient of the 1985 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Eighty-seven Lasker laureates have received the Nobel Prize, including 40 in the last three decades.

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