Ron Vale Receives 2017 Shaw Prize for Discovery of Motor Protein Family, Kinesin, at MBL

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Ronald D. Vale, who led a group of scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) to the seminal discovery of kinesin, one of the major families of motor proteins, has been awarded the prestigious 2017 Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine.

Ron Vale in the MBL Physiology course.

Ron Vale in the MBL Physiology course.

Vale was a graduate student visiting the MBL in the mid-1980s when he and collaborators from the National Institutes of Health purified a mystery motor protein from the axoplasm of squid, which they later called kinesin. The discovery opened up a still-flourishing field of research into the activity of kinesin, whose critical biological functions include moving molecular cargo around in cells and separating chromosomes during cell division.

Artistic depiction of kinesisn transporting membranes along microtubules -artwork prepared by Graham Johnson (graham@grahamj.com), modified from cover artwork from the Journal of Cell Biology, November 27, 2000

Artistic depiction of kinesin transporting membranes along microtubules. Credit: Graham Johnson and  J. Cell Biology, November 27, 2000.

Today, Vale is Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology at University of California-San Francisco, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator, Distinguished Scientist at the MBL, and co-director of the HHMI Summer Institute at the MBL.

Often called the “Nobel of the East,” each Shaw Prize bears a monetary award of $1.2 million. Vale received the Shaw Prize along with Ian Gibbons of University of California-Berkeley, who discovered the other major family of motor proteins, dynein, in the 1960s.

“The microtubule motors discovered by Gibbons and Vale lay at the heart of key aspects of human development and chromosome inheritance,” the Shaw Prize announcement stated. “Without these motors, the process of multicellular growth and division would be impossible. Indeed, diseases ranging from neuropathy, schizophrenia and neurodegeneration have been linked to the genes that encode these motor proteins. Once again, a discovery in basic science illuminates a fundamental property of cells so important to human health.”

Vale has remained an active member of the MBL’s scientific community as a Physiology course instructor (1985-86, 1992-93, 2009, 2013) and co-director (2004-2008); a Whitman Center Investigator (2010-2017); co-director of the HHMI Summer Institute research program (2013-2017); and a member of the MBL Society. As founder and producer of iBiology.org, Vale produces video profiles of scientists and their research, often videotaping them at the MBL.

In 2016, Vale was named a Distinguished Scientist at the MBL, a title conferred to highly accomplished scientists whose exceptional work at the Marine Biological Laboratory is of recognized national and international significance.

Vale, Michael Sheetz, and James Spudich received the 2012 Lasker Award for their discoveries concerning kinesin and dynein.

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The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.