Walter Wins Gairdner International Award

By Jeffrey Norris

Peter Walter

Peter Walter, PhD, professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, is one of just five recipients of the prestigious Gairdner International Award for 2009. The award recognizes researchers who have made significant achievements in medical sciences. Many recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. In announcing the award, the Gairdner Foundation cited Walter “for the dissection and elucidation of a key pathway in the unfolded protein response which regulates protein folding in the cell.” The unfolded protein response is a biochemical mechanism used by cells to recover from a kind of stress that arises when they cannot keep up with the need to fold proteins into proper shape. If a cell cannot recover, it may be steered toward cellular suicide for the greater good. The events Walter studies take place largely in a component of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum, or ER. “Regulating how much ER you have is a fundamental process for cells, and it is a key determinant for any number of diseases,” Walter says. “By understanding the details of this mechanism, we hope to make significant contributions to understanding many medically important pathologies.” Indeed, understanding this mechanism is crucial for cells in which imbalances can lead to cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and vascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Walter, an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCSF, leads studies investigating the role of the unfolded protein response in cancer. Another 2009 recipient of the Gairdner International Award, Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD, trained at the UCSF-affiliated Gladstone Institutes and has served as a visiting UCSF faculty member. Yamanaka’s primary appointment is as a professor at Kyoto University, Japan. He is recognized for discoveries that have greatly advanced stem cell research. The 2009 winners will be presented with the award in Toronto in late October, as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the awards. Gairdner Foundation programs recognize and celebrate excellence in the health sciences, create international research linkages, inspire young people to consider a career in the health sciences, and increase public awareness of the value of scientific research and discovery.

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2009 Gairdner International Awardee
Peter Walter, PhD

Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD
2009 Gairdner International Awardee

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