For his ground-breaking studies in the field of cell biology on cell growth and the development of cancer, Prof. Michael N. Hall was awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize on September 24. As a young assistant professor at the Biozentrum in the 1990’s, Hall discovered a protein that controls cell growth and size in the context of his work on simple organisms, in particular yeasts. It soon became clear to him that this mechanism was also present in complex organisms such as mammals and humans and was vital to the life processes of cells and organs. Hall named the growth regulator TOR (target of rapamycin). The drug rapamycin is a growth inhibitor that is today used in cancer therapies thanks to Hall’s research. In 2002, he discovered that TOR operates within two distinct protein complexes. Both TOR complexes are at the centre of a series of signal cascades within the cell that control its survival, size and to some extent cell division. A pharmacological blockade of TOR can therefore be used to slow the uncontrolled growth typical of cancerous tissue.
Recent findings made by Hall and other teams of researchers are highly significant because they show that TOR ‘senses’ the availability of nutrients for cells and tissues and integrates this information into cell growth. This has important consequences for medicine as it means TOR plays an important role in the ageing process and the dysregulation that occurs in obesity. Hall’s discovery was a major breakthrough as it revealed a mechanism central to the life processes of cells and tissues. His discoveries are now considered part of basic scientific knowledge in biology. Many research groups in molecular- and cell-biology, pharmacology and medicine work today with his findings and concepts.
The award ceremony for the Marcel Benoist Prize will take place in November 2012 at the University of Basel. The Marcel Benoist Prize has been awarded every year since 1920 to researchers working in Switzerland for major contributions in disciplines of significance to human life.
Interview with Michael N. Hall PDF-download
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