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Two NICHD Grantees Awarded National Medal of Science

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Two grantees of the NICHD’s Reproductive Sciences Branch were among the seven researchers named by President Obama as recipients of the National Medal of Science, an honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors.

Ralph L. Brinster, V.M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Reproductive Physiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania was recognized for his contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice. In 1983, he and coauthor Richard Palminter became the first to transplant a human gene into animals, transplanting the gene for human growth hormone into mice. His research provided the foundation for modifying the germline in a range of species, bringing about permanent changes in the animals’ genetic material that can be passed on to subsequent generations. The award announcement credited his work with generating “a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture.” The techniques he developed are still used in studies involving genetic manipulation of mammalian embryos and as key tools in understanding the genetic basis of human biology and disease. Dr. Brinster is a long term grantee of the NICHD. In 2003, he was inducted in the NICHD’s Hall of Honor, which recognizes scientists supported by the institute for their contributions advancing knowledge and improving maternal and child health, for the discovery of a method to culture embryos in vitro, which paved the way for later studies in reproductive biology.

Rudolf Jaenisch, M.D., Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, was honored for his contribution to the understanding of the epigenetic mechanism of gene expression— how non genetic factors influence how genes are expressed. “His work has led to major advances in our understanding of mammalian cloning and embryonic stem cells,” the award announcement stated. Dr. Jaenisch is well known for his contributions to the science of nuclear transfer. In this body of research, which he conducted in mice, the genetic material from a single cell is transplanted into an unfertilized egg, from which the genetic material has been previously removed. In research funded by the NICHD, he has investigated the epigenetic factors contributing to the success or failure of such cloning attempts, and the reprogramming of mature cells into stem cells so that they can be further reprogrammed into specialized cells that can be used to treat disease. Dr. Jaenisch is also a recipient of funding by the National Cancer Institute.

In the award announcement, which also included awardees of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, President Obama noted that ““Each of these extraordinary scientists, engineers, and inventors is guided by a passion for innovation, a fearlessness even as they explore the very frontiers of human knowledge, and a desire to make the world a better place.”

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About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation.  For more information, visit the Institute’s Web site at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/.

Last Updated Date: 09/29/2011
Last Reviewed Date: 09/29/2011

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