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Professor Thomas Tuschl Receives Max Delbrück Medal

Professor Thomas Tuschl from Rockefeller University in New York, USA, was honoured in Berlin, Germany, with the Max Delbrück Medal. The German chemist developed a technique which enables researchers to literally “turn off” specific genes. This technology is called RNA-Interference (RNAi) and is now used in research laboratories all over the world to silence genes in cell culture to elucidate their function. Researchers also hope to employ RNAi-technology to silence disease genes in order to treat eye diseases, neurological diseases, hereditary diseases, and cancer in the future. Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, Germany, held the laudatory address.

Ribonucleid acid (RNA), the chemical relative of DNA,
carries the genetic information which enables the cell machinery to produce
proteins, the building blocks of life. However, when RNA is double-stranded,
cells act to cut it into small pieces which, in turn, stop proteins from being
made. This process occurs in plants, animals, and humans to protect them from
viral infections. It also serves to regulate genes.

While a postdoctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA, Thomas Tuschl laid the groundwork that
led to his later discovery at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical
Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany. He could show that synthetic double-stranded
RNA is also cut into small pieces when inserted into cells. These small pieces,
made up of 20 to 23 nucleotides, interfere with the messenger RNA and, thus,
silence genes.

In 2001, Tuschl, then working at the Max Planck Institute
for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, was able to show that RNAi also
exists in human cells and that it can also specifically silence human genes.

Thomas Tuschl was born on June 1, 1966 in Altdorf near
Nuernberg, Germany. He studied chemistry in Regensburg and earned his PhD in
1995 at the Max-Planck Institute for Experimental Medicine in Göttingen. During
the following four years, he was a postdoctoral student in the laboratory of
Nobel laureate Phillip Sharp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
in Cambridge, USA, and also worked at the nearby Whitehead Institute for
Biomedical Research.

In 1999, he returned to Germany to become a research group
leader at the Max Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. In 2003, he was
offered a position as Associate Professor at Rockefeller University in New
York, USA, where he continues to work. A few years later he also became
Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Together with
Phillip Sharp and other researchers, he founded the biopharmaceutical company
Alnylam in Cambridge, USA, in 2002, which aims at developing novel therapeutics
based on RNAi.

Thomas Tuschl has received many scientific awards in
Germany and the USA, among them the Ernst-Schering-Prize in 2005 in Berlin, and
in 2003 the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology in New York,
the Wiley Prize in the Biomedical Sciences, and the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Awarded annually since 1992, the Max Delbrück Medal is
presented to outstanding scientists on the occasion of the “Berlin Lectures on
Molecular Medicine”, which the MDC organizes together with other Berlin
research institutions and the Bayer Health Care, Bayer Schering Pharma
(formerly Ernst Schering Research Foundation). The first award recipient was
Professor Günter Blobel, who later received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Professor Thomas Tuschl, Rockefeller University New York, USA (Photo: Clark Jones, AP/Copyright: HHMI)

Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax:  +49 (0) 30
94 06 - 38 33

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