Professor Alexander J. Varshavsky (b. November 8, 1946) was born and educated in Moscow, Russia. He obtained his B.S. in Chemistry from Moscow University in 1970 and Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow in 1973. He then served for three years as a Research Fellow at the Inst+B1itute of Molecular Biology in Moscow before emigrating to the USA in 1977, where he was appointed Assistant Professor (1977-1980) then Associate Professor (1980-1986) at the Department of Biology, M. I. T., Cambridge, MA. In 1986, he became full Professor of Biology at M. I. T., a position he had held for the next six years. In 1992, he moved to the Division of Biology at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA where he has since been the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Professor of Cell Biology. Professor Varshavsky has also served as a member of the Molecular Cytology Study Section at the National Institutes of Health (1983-1987) and Visiting Fellow at the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Kyoto, Japan (2001). He was also a member of the board of “Encyclopedia of Molecular Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine” (2002-2005), the Medical Advisory Board of Gairdner Foundation, Canada (2002-2006) and the O’Connor Advisory Committee, March of Dimes Foundation (2007-present).
Professor Varshavsky is renowned for his discovery of the N-end rule of ubiquitination that controls protein stability. His research has focused for many years on understanding how the function of a protein is terminated to ensure homeostatic equilibrium. He has established the significance of a new regulatory system in which a small, ubiquitous protein, ubiquitin, plays a fundamental role in systematic, programmed degradation of protein. His seminal findings have opened an entirely new field of research and provided powerful insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the ubiquitin-dependent protein degradation system and its role in cellular processes during health and disease. More recently, Varshavsky has also “developed the idea of a targeted molecular device that could enter a cell, examine it for DNA deletions specific to cancer and killing it if it meets the right profile.” Professor Varshavsky has published more than 200 papers in leading international journals.
Professor Varshavsky’s enormous achievements have been recognized by numerous honors. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Foreign Associate of the European Molecular Biology Organization and Foreign Member of the Academia Europaea. His honors also include a long list of honorary and plenary lectureships and more than 20 prizes including numerous prestigious awards such as the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Gairdner International Award, the Louisa Gross Prize, the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, and the $1 million Gotham Prize.
Professor Varshavsky, has been awarded the Prize in recognition of his ground-breaking discoveries into how the living cell works. He elucidated how cell functions are regulated by protein degradation emphasizing that proteins are essential parts of organisms and that they participate in virtually every process within the cell. Hence, cells continuously produce and destroy proteins to ensure optimal function.
Varshavsky’s work has unraveled the cellular mechanisms that determine how cellular proteins are being selected for destruction. He has also discovered how proteins are marked for rapid degradation. These advances have created a new realm of biology and have been essential for progress in research on human cancer, neurodegeneration, immune responses and other fundamental biological processes. This may lead to clinically useful therapies.