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Columbia to award 2008 Horwitz Prize to Arthur Horwich & Ulrich Hartl for cellular protein folding

NEW YORK Columbia University will award the 2008 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize to F. Ulrich Hartl, M.D., professor and director of the Department of Cellular Biochemistry at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Germany, and Arthur Horwich, M.D., Eugene Higgins Professor of Genetics, professor of pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Yale University School of Medicine, for their collaborative work in expanding fundamental understanding of cellular protein folding, and its role in Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, cystic fibrosis and other life-threatening diseases. Additionally, an Honorary 2008 Horwitz Prize will be given to Rosalind Franklin, Ph.D., posthumously, for her seminal contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA. These awards will be given at ceremonies to be held this November.

"It is our privilege to award the 2008 Horwitz Prize to Drs. Horwich and Hartl, with an honorary award to Dr. Franklin, as recognition for their pioneering work in the fields of protein structure and DNA," said Lee Goldman, M.D., executive vice president of Columbia University and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. "The selection of these esteemed scientists recognizes their respective, significant contributions to the understanding of the importance of shape in human biology."

"The knowledge these biologists have given us about the structures of protein folding and DNA has laid the foundation for extraordinarily important fields of study that have and continue to lead to new scientific and disease breakthroughs," said David Hirsh, Ph.D., executive vice president for research at Columbia University.

Drs. Hartl's and Horwich's work has significantly expanded the understanding of how proteins fold into their final shapes within human cells. It is this folding of proteins that is responsible for much of the action in our cells and ultimately our bodies actions such as moving, thinking and other biological processes.

Prior to their work, it was thought that proteins, which at "birth" resemble a line of beads on a string, spontaneously fold themselves into their final, three-dimensional structures. Drs. Hartl and Horwich discovered that inside cells, proteins need assistance from other proteins, known as chaperones, to guide the process and ensure they fold into the proper shape. In independent and often complementary work, they also established the pathway and molecular mechanisms involved in this process.

The work of Drs. Hartl and Horwich demonstrated that when the protein folding pathway is imperfect, protein can accumulate in cells, leading to disease. Protein misfolding has been associated with approximately 20 diseases, including Alzheimer's, Huntington's and cystic fibrosis. Targeting the activity of the chaperones to correct misfolded proteins is a therapeutic goal currently under development.

"The selection of Arthur Horwich and Ulrich Hartl for this year's Horwitz Prize recognizes their scientific contribution began in part by Rosalind Franklin on the role of shape in human biology; and as the pathway has been replicated in bacteria, fungi, plants, animals and humans, their work has been seminal in understanding the protein folding as vital to biological function," said Andrew R. Marks, M.D., chair of the Horwitz Prize Committee at Columbia University. Dr. Marks is the Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Molecular Cardiology and chairman of the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"We are delighted to highlight the contributions of women in science by honoring the work of Rosalind Franklin," added Dr. Marks. "It is particularly important that her key role in unraveling the structure of DNA is widely recognized so that she can serve as a role model for young women in science and for all who appreciate great achievements despite difficult circumstances."

Elucidating the structure of DNA, a project that Dr. Franklin's work was vital to, is one of the greatest biological discoveries of the past century. It helped scientists understand how DNA carries the genetic code, and the consequences of genetic mutations on human disease and function. Using X-ray crystallography, Dr. Franklin obtained the data that James Watson and Francis Crick used to develop the double helix model of DNA. However, the contributions of Dr. Franklin were never recognized with a Nobel Prize because she died 50 years ago at the age of 37, four years before the Nobel Prize for deducing the structure of DNA was awarded to Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins.

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize was established by Columbia University to recognize outstanding contributions to basic research in the fields of biology and biochemistry. Awarded annually since 1967, the prize is named for the mother of Columbia benefactor S. Gross Horwitz. Louisa Gross Horwitz was daughter of Dr. Samuel David Gross, author of "A System of Surgery" and a founder of the American Medical Association. For additional information about the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, visit:

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize Lectures will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 25. 2008 award winner Dr. Hartl will give his lecture at noon in the Davis Auditorium (rm. 412), Schapiro Center, 530 W. 120th Street, at Columbia University's Morningside Campus; and 2008 award winner Dr. Horwich will give his lecture at 3:30 p.m. in the Alumni Auditorium, College of Physicians & Surgeons building, 650 West 168th Street, at Columbia University Medical Center.

Plans are tentatively underway to honor Dr. Rosalind Franklin with a special symposium on Monday, Nov. 24.

For more information about the lectures, visit

Contact: Elizabeth Streich
Columbia University Medical Center

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