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NIH Office of the Director (OD)

For Immediate Release
Thursday, October 8, 2009


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NIH Grantees Win 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry is shared by two grantees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Thomas A. Steitz, Ph.D., of Yale University, New Haven, CT and Ada E. Yonath, Ph.D., of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel. The two researchers share the award with a former NIH grantee, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, United Kingdom. The three researchers are honored for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. Ribosomes produce proteins, which in turn control the chemistry in all living organisms.

"Understanding the ribosome's inner-workings is important for a scientific understanding of life," said NIH director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "Thanks to the 3D models created by these three researchers showing how various antibiotics bind to the ribosome, scientists can now develop new antibiotics which will ultimately save lives and decrease suffering."

The NIH began supporting the work of Dr. Steitz in 1971, Dr. Yonath in 1985, and Dr. Ramakrishnan in 1979 and has provided a total of more than $17 million to the three researchers.

The NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has provided more than $8 million to support the work of Dr. Steitz, nearly $4 million to support the work of Dr. Yonath, and more than $2 million to support the work of Dr. Ramakrishnan.

"When these researchers started their work, determining the structure and mechanism of the ribosome seemed nearly impossible," said NIGMS director Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D. "Their achievement shows how basic research to answer fundamental questions about biology also lays the foundation for medical advances."

In addition, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) provided more than $1 million and more than $800,000, respectively to support the research of Dr. Steitz. The National Center for Research Resources also provided more than $800,000 to support the work of Dr. Yonath.

"NCRR is pleased that our national Biomedical Technology Research Centers in synchrotron research provided access to the synchrotron radiation and associated technologies that were essential for the elucidation of the ribosome structure by the three laureates," said NCRR Director Barbara Alving, M.D. "Along with access to the complex technologies developed at the synchrotron centers came the expertise of the research center investigators that provide the service and training essential for optimal use."

The Office of the Director, the central office at NIH, is responsible for setting policy for NIH, which includes 27 Institutes and Centers. This involves planning, managing, and coordinating the programs and activities of all NIH components. The Office of the Director also includes program offices which are responsible for stimulating specific areas of research throughout NIH. Additional information is available at http://www.nih.gov/icd/od/.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.
Correction: In the second paragraph of this press release, the term antibodies has been changed to antibiotics.

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