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Kyoto University Professor Kazutoshi Mori Receives the 2014 Lasker Award for Medical Research in the United States

Kazutoshi Mori, Ph.D., a professor at Kyoto University, received the 2014 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his “discoveries concerning the unfolded protein response”. The Lasker Awards are highly regarded and popularly referred to as “America’s Nobels.” The U.S.-based Lasker Foundation announced the winners on September 8, 2014 and the awards ceremony took place on September 19, 2014 in New York City.

Dr. Mori’s research goal is to understand the unfolded protein response in cells that detects unfolded and misfolded proteins within the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and activates mechanisms to prevent their accumulation. The accumulation of such abnormal proteins causes ER stress and is harmful to cells.

ER stress has been reported to be strongly linked to diabetes, arteriosclerosis, cancer, heart failure, metabolic disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, advances in our understanding of the unfolded protein response should contribute to the development of therapies for such diseases and disorders.

The endoplasmic reticulum is the cellular organelle where proteins fold into higher-order structures; however, proteins may not always fold properly into higher-order structures, resulting in abnormal proteins that may accumulate in the endoplasmic reticulum and cause ER stress. The endoplasmic reticulum is equipped with a mechanism called the unfolded protein response to deal with such stress.

Dr. Mori has contributed greatly to our understanding of the unfolded protein response. Starting with his discovery of the ER stress–sensing molecule Ire1, he has gone on to elucidate the mechanism by which the transcription of molecular chaperones is induced. Chaperones are proteins that assist other proteins in forming higher-order structures. He first elucidated the mechanism of unfolded protein response in unicellular organisms by studying baker’s yeast. He went on to discover that the mammalian unfolded protein response is even more complex.

Dr. Mori shares the Lasker Award this year with Peter Walter, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Both Dr. Mori and Dr. Walter, in striving to become leaders in the field of unfolded protein response, have made prominent, cutting-edge discoveries in this groundbreaking academic field.

Kazutoshi Mori
Dr. Kazutoshi Mori was born in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. He graduated from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Kyoto University and subsequently earned his doctoral degree in pharmaceutical sciences, also from Kyoto University. In 1989, he joined the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center as a postdoctoral research fellow and began studying the unfolded protein response. He later joined the Heat Shock Protein (HSP) Research Institute in Kyoto as a researcher before becoming an assistant professor at Kyoto University in the Graduate School of Biostudies, and finally joined the Kyoto University Graduate School of Science in 2003 as a full professor. In 2009, he received the Canadian Gairdner Foundation International Award, one of the most prestigious awards in medicine, along with Shinya Yamanaka, Ph.D., the current director of the Center for iPS (induced pluripotent stem) Cell Research and Application.

The Lasker Awards
The Lasker Awards are awarded annually to those who have made significant contributions to the field of medicine. The four main awards are the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award, and the Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science.

The Lasker Awards are administered by the Lasker Foundation, which aims to support those who have provided distinguished service to medical science. There are a total of seven Japanese Lasker laureates, including Dr. Susumu Tonegawa and Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who have also won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. As of 2014, 86 out of 373 Lasker laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. In particular, more than half of the recipients of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award have also received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.