Lasker Award Winner visits NUI Galway

The Apoptosis Research Centre at NUI Galway hosted a highly successful visit from eminent cell biology researcher, Professor Kazutoshi Mori on 1st and 2nd November 2016. Professor Mori of Kyoto University shares the 2014 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award with Peter Walter of the University of California, San Francisco. Walter and Mori were honoured for their work identifying core components of the unfolded protein response (UPR), an area of research that is being actively investigated for its role in cancer at the Apoptosis Research Centre.

The Lasker Awards, established in 1945, recognise the contribution of scientists, physicians and public servants who have made major advances in the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human disease. They are sometimes referred to as “America’s Nobels” and the Lasker Awards have a reputation for identifying future Nobel Prize winners.

During his visit, Professor Mori held a roundtable discussion with PhD students at the Apoptosis Research Centre, providing them with insightful feedback on their projects. He also met many Principal Investigators from Biochemistry and Medicine, establishing new collaborative links, and attended a reception hosted by the Vice President for Research. Finally, his seminar entitled “The unfolded protein response: to mammals and beyond” was very well received by more than 200 researchers, postgraduate and undergraduate students in attendance. His seminar was an engaging history lesson of the Unfolded Protein Response which included his personal account of his landmark discoveries in the field.

Mori made his first major discovery in UPR in 1993 while he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He was investigating the internal quality control system present in all of our cells. About one third of proteins or building blocks in our cells go through a protein production line, during which the quality of the proteins is checked. When cells are under pressure to grow rapidly, such as in cancer, the production line is ramped up, leading to defects or poor quality proteins being produced. This build-up of defective proteins that have not passed quality control checks triggers the ‘Unfolded Protein Response’. Signals are sent to the brains of the cell, called the nucleus, to slow down production, giving the cell time to deal with the stress. In the late 90’s, Professor Mori discovered three major sensors of defective proteins that trigger the unfolded protein response. It was these discoveries that were recognised by the Lasker Award.

Professor Mori’s visit was kindly supported by funding from ISCA Japan and the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions and the EU Regional Development Fund.