Peter Walter Wins the Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Sciences

Peter Walter, PhD, grew up in Cold War-era West Berlin. He said a childhood in a divided city influenced his interest in science, which "bridges divides and political systems and religions."

Peter Walter, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, has received the 2015 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Sciences, which recognizes major contributions to science made by immigrants to America.

Walter, professor of biochemistry and biophysics, was born in West Berlin, Germany, during the Cold War era. He joined the UCSF faculty in 1983. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 1997, Walter was honored for two main achievements. In the 1980s, while working in the Rockefeller University laboratory of Günter Blobel, PhD, Walter discovered a molecular apparatus in cells called the signal recognition particle, which facilitates the transport of newly minted proteins across a cellular compartment called the endoplasmic reticulum by homing in on address tags on the proteins.

Since establishing his own lab at UCSF, Walter has done groundbreaking work on a cellular quality-control system known as the unfolded protein response, or UPR. Found in organisms ranging from yeast to humans, the UPR is crucial to life, and disruptions in its workings are believed to play a role in neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, diabetes and other illnesses.

Last year, Walter was the recipient of both the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.

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