The 2019 Nakasone Award was announced during the World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne, on Tuesday 2th July. “Michael Hall’s groundbreaking work expands the frontiers of science and enables us to begin to understand how cell growth determines human development, how we experience aging over our lifespan and the role that it plays in the likelihood we will develop diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” said Warwick P. Anderson, HFSPO Secretary-General. “This stellar research has spawned a whole new field of inquiry and has far-reaching implications to advance scientific understanding and improve human health.”
The HFSP Nakasone Award was established in 2010 by the Human Frontier Science Program to honor scientists who have made key breakthroughs in fields at the forefront of the life sciences. It recognizes the vision of Japan’s former Prime Minister Nakasone in the creation of the international science funding organization. Prof. Michael Hall receives the HFSP Nakasone Award 2019 for the discovery of advanced understanding of cell growth and its role in aging and disease.
The discovery of mTOR
Michael Hall discovered the highly conserved, nutrient-activated protein kinase TOR, and elucidated its role as a central controller of cell growth. This led to a fundamental change in scientists’ understanding and appreciation of cell growth. It is not a spontaneous process that just happens, but rather a highly regulated, plastic process controlled by TOR-dependent signaling pathways. As a central controller of cell growth, TOR plays a key role in development and aging, and is implicated in various disorders including cancer, cardiovascular disease, allograft rejection, obesity and diabetes. Rapamycin is used in the clinic in three of the above major therapeutic areas, and several new mammalian TOR (mTOR) inhibitors are currently being evaluated as anti-cancer drugs.
Since the initial discovery, TOR-related research has expanded to include the basic research community, medical researchers and the pharmaceutical industry. Michael Hall is its founder and has remained a major leader in this highly competitive field for over 25 years. His recent work continues to focus on mechanisms of mTOR signaling, elucidating the roles of mTOR in metabolic tissues and tumors. The aim of the work on metabolic tissues is to understand how mTOR controls whole body growth and metabolism. The goal of the tumor research, in mice and humans, is to understand mechanisms of tumorigenesis and evasive resistance to targeted cancer therapies. In summary, Hall's studies on TOR have spanned yeast to human to elucidate fundamentally and clinically important biology.
Hall has been a researcher and faculty member at the University of Basel since 1987, and served as Vice-Director of the Biozentrum from 2002 to 2009, and from 2013 to 2016. A Swiss citizen born in Puerto Rico, Hall received his Ph.D. from Harvard and completed postdoctoral fellowships at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the University of California, San Francisco.