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Although medical and health-related research is not explicitly part of NSF's mission, NSF's support for basic research in fields ranging from biology and chemistry to engineering and computer science has led to discoveries that later play key roles in medical and health advances. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for example, emerged from the fundamental physics of the behavior of atoms to become a critical modern tool for medicine.
Since 1950, 42 Nobel Laureates in physiology or medicine have been supported by NSF in the course of their careers. Fifteen (identified here by asterisk) received NSF support after receiving their prizes. Discoveries by NSF-supported laureates serve as a reminder of how today's basic science and engineering research and education contribute to future benefits for our health and well being.
For more information on the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and the laureates listed here, see the Nobel Prize Web site.
2009JACK W. SZOSTAK
"For the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase." NSF supported Szostak with a 1983 award (8208485) for genetic regulation of complex systems in yeast; 1995 award (9417933) for RNAs that bind small substrates and cofactors; 2004 award (0434507) for Darwinian chemical systems; and a 2008 award (0809413) for self-replicating nucleic acids.
2007MARIO R. CAPECCHI
"For discoveries of principles for introducing specific gene modifications in mice by the use of embryonic stem cells." NSF supported Capecchi with an award (7503715) in 1975 for genetic studies on hormone-responsive cultured cells: isolation of mutants with altered cyclic adenosine monophosphate (AMP) metabolism.
"For his discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system." In 1982, Axel received the Alan T. Waterman award (8213109) from the National Science Board for, according to the citation, "devising a novel procedure for introducing virtually any gene into mammalian cells." The Waterman award recognizes an outstanding young researcher in any field of science or engineering supported by the National Science Foundation.
2003PAUL C. LAUTERBUR
“For his discoveries concerning magnetic resonance imaging.” NSF supported Lauterbur with a 1966 chemistry award as well as an engineering award in 1980 (8008629). Lauterbur also directed the NSF-supported Center for Magnetic Resonance Technology for Basic Biological Research in the early 1990s (8920133).
2001LELAND H. HARTWELL
“For his discovery of key regulators of the cell cycle.” NSF support includes a 1982 award (8215113) for genes that control chromosome reproduction.
ERIC R. KANDEL
“For [joint] discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system.” NSF support for Greengard included an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship (1953), as well as a 1974 award (7420604) on the molecular mechanism for synaptic transmission. Kandel's NSF support includes a Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship (1962).
1997STANLEY B. PRUSINER
“For his discovery of prions – a new biological principle of infection.” NSF support includes two awards in the 1970s (7522806, 7724076) related to the biochemistry of scrapie, a prion disease in sheep and goats.
1995EDWARD B. LEWIS
ERIC F. WIESCHAUS
“For [joint] discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development.” NSF support for Lewis includes awards in the 1970s and 1980s (7600281, 8021760, 8517686) to maintain a collection of mutant types of fruit flies. Wieschaus' NSF support includes an NSF Fellowship and a 1986 award (8616928) for developmental genetics in fruit flies.
1993RICHARD J. ROBERTS
PHILLIP A. SHARP
“For their discoveries of split genes.” NSF support for Roberts includes a series of 13 awards from 1974 (7404863) to 1990 (9011091) while he was at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as well as an award received in 2003 (0350020). NSF has supported Sharp with six awards from 1976 (7620603) to the present (0218506).
1992EDMOND H. FISCHER
“For his discoveries concerning reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism.” NSF support includes awards in the 1970s (7516260, 7804301) for calcium and its role in regulating metabolism and a conference award in the late 1980s (8918861).
“For his discovery of the genetic principle for generation of antibody diversity.” NSF support includes a 1983 award (8312086) for molecular studies of B-lymphocyte differentiation.
“For [joint] discoveries of growth factors.” NSF supported Levi-Montalcini while she was at Washington University, St. Louis, with nine awards, essentially continuously between 1957 and 1975, for her studies of growth factors.
1981ROGER W. SPERRY
“For his discoveries concerning the functional specialization of the cerebral hemispheres.” NSF support dates to a psychobiology award in 1955 and includes an electronically-available 1976 award (7601629) for hemispheric specialization. TORSTEN N. WIESEL
“For his discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system.” NSF support includes an equipment award in 1981 (8100340) and two international collaboration awards in the 1990s (9001695, 9320139).
1979ALLAN M. CORMACK*
“For the development of computer assisted tomography.” NSF support includes a 1980 mathematical sciences award (8012688).
1978HAMILTON O. SMITH
“For the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics.” NSF support includes a 1974 award (7419985) on DNA restriction and modification.
“For their discoveries concerning the interaction between tumour viruses and the genetic material of the cell.” NSF support for Baltimore includes a 1990 facilities modernization award while he was at Rockefeller University (9021776) and a 1996 undergraduate education award at Caltech (9652066). NSF support for Dulbecco included a 1957 biology award to study virus-host complexes formed by animal virus and animal cells. And Temin's support included an NSF Fellowship in 1955.
1974GEORGE E. PALADE*
“For [joint] discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell.” NSF support dates to research awards in 1959, 1960 and 1962, while at Rockefeller University. More recently, he received awards in the 1980s for collaborations with Romanian researchers (8016156, 8407096, 8819201).
1972GERALD M. EDELMAN
“For [joint] discoveries concerning the chemical structure of antibodies.” Edelman acknowledged prior NSF support in his 1972 Nobel Lecture, which includes an award as early as 1966. More recently, he has received several electronically-available awards for collaborations with French researchers (8612629, 8815537, 9396077) and for the purchase of a supercomputer (8809089).
1971EARL W. SUTHERLAND JR.
“For his discoveries concerning the mechanisms of the action of hormones.” NSF support for Sutherland includes a three-year award in 1954, while he was at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, to study the workings of epinephrine and related sympathomimetic amines.
SALVADOR E. LURIA*
“For their discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses.” Delbruck's first NSF award was for genetic biology in 1952 and later support includes three electronically-available awards in the 1970s (7511316, 7708446) and 1980s (8003846). NSF support for Luria dates back to awards in 1959 and 1962 and includes more recent electronically-available awards starting in 1971 (7101230).
1968ROBERT W. HOLLEY
H. GOBIND KHORANA
“For their interpretation of the genetic code and its function in protein synthesis.” NSF support for Holley dates at least to a 1962 award. He also received an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship (1966-1967), according to Holley's biography on the Nobel Web site, and a 1972 award (7201899). Khorana acknowledged prior NSF support in his Nobel Lecture, which includes an award in 1961, awards at MIT in 1973 (7306757) and an award as recently as 2002 (0225609).
“For [joint] discoveries concerning the primary physiological and chemical visual processes in the eye.” In addition to international travel grants in the late 1950s, Wald received NSF research awards as early as 1960 and 1962. His electronically-available awards include one in 1973 (7306833) and one in 1981 (8119970).
“For their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis.” In their Nobel Lectures, both Jacob and Monod acknowledge NSF support for their work at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. The support includes metabolic biology awards in 1959, 1960 and 1961.
“For [joint] discoveries concerning the mechanism and regulation of the cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism.” Bloch acknowledged NSF support in his Nobel Lecture. His first awards in molecular biology date to 1955 and 1957. He also has five electronically-available awards starting in 1975 (7504972).
1962FRANCIS C. CRICK*
JAMES D. WATSON*
“For their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material.” Watson received his first NSF awards in 1955, 1957 and 1958. Later while at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Watson was the principal investigator of a plant genetics laboratory award in 1983 (8313035) as well as for 24 other NSF awards to support Cold Spring Harbor symposia, workshops and meetings. Based in the United Kingdom until 1975, Crick was supported by a 1978 NSF award (7808029) at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies.
1961GEORG VON BÉKÉSY*
NSF support prior to his prize was limited to an international travel grant in 1959. He received later awards, including a 1967 psychobiology award for marine and human sensory processes.
“For their discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxiribonucleic acid.” Kornberg's NSF support dates back to awards in 1954 and 1957, while he was at Washington University, St. Louis, and includes six electronically-available awards, starting in 1973 (7306835). NSF support for Ochoa includes international travel grants in the late 1950s and a 1974 award.
1958GEORGE W. BEADLE*
EDWARD L. TATUM*
“For their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events.” NSF support for Beadle includes a 1975 award (7500981) while he was at the University of Chicago. Tatum's NSF support began with a three-year award in 1960. JOSHUA LEDERBERG
“For his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria.” In his Nobel Lecture, Lederberg acknowledged NSF support, which includes research awards in 1956 and 1959.
“For his discovery of co-enzyme A and its importance for intermediary metabolism.” NSF support includes an international travel grant in 1952. His first research award was in 1958, and he received electronically-available awards in 1979 (7910513) and 1982 (8215847), all while he was at Rockefeller University.