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NIH Grantee Wins 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Nobel Prize medallion.Nobel Foundation
The Nobel Prize medallion.Nobel Foundation

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to National Institutes of Health grantee Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University, New York City.  Frank shares the award jointly with Jacques Dubochet, Ph.D., of the University of Geneva and University of Basel, Switzerland, and Richard Henderson, Ph.D., of Cambridge University, for the development (link is external) of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), which both simplifies and improves the imaging of biomolecules.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said, “This method has moved biochemistry into a new era.”

Knowing the structure of a molecule reveals important information about how it functions and can provide insight into potential drug targets for fighting disease.  Cryo-EM is a method used to image frozen biological molecules without the use of structure-altering dyes or fixatives or the need to coax the molecules into crystalline form, providing a simpler way to generate pictures of the molecules in their normal states and greater understanding of biological function.  With cryo-EM, researchers can advance understanding of life’s chemistry and develop pharmaceuticals.

“The work of these Nobel laureates has been game-changing in our understanding of life’s processes and identifying molecular targets for drug development,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “NIH is investing heavily in the further development of this technology through the NIH Common Funds’ Transformative High Resolution cryo-EM Program, which aims to improve access for researchers through the creation of national service centers, continued advancement of the technology, and developing the skills that researchers need to use this technology.  NIH is proud to have supported this groundbreaking research.”

Dr. Frank has received continuous funding from NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) since 1978, having received more than $25 million in funding to date.

“One of the beauties of this Prize is that it isn’t just looking backward at what happened in the past, it’s also looking to the future,” said NIGMS Director Jon R. Lorsch, Ph.D. “Recent advances in cryo-EM – made possible by the three winners – are allowing us to make unprecedented advances in areas from our basic understanding of cellular processes to the development of new vaccines.”

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