The challenge: Since 1953 we have known that DNA governs the development and functioning of all known living organisms, but the area of DNA damage remained a mystery.
The work: Dr. Elledge’s research led to the identification and characterization of a signal transduction pathway, also known as the “anti-cancer pathway”, which senses and responds to DNA damage. These pathways are responsible for many things, most importantly detecting when cells have over-multiplied. When this detection occurs, the pathway sends a signal to the cell so it can begin to repair itself. This means that the pathway has the ability to suppress tumor development.
Why it matters: Dr. Elledge’s pioneering work has laid the foundation for our current understanding of DNA damage response and has informed the important field of genome instability. The discovery of signal transduction pathways lead to a new way of thinking about DNA damage. Knowledge about the inner working of this sensory pathway has led to a better understanding of how cancer occurs as well as different ways of treating it.
Dr. Stephen J. Elledge studied at the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and received his PhD in 1983 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Biology. In 1989 he was appointed Assistant Professor in the Biochemistry Department at the Baylor College of Medicine. In 1993 he became an Investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute and in 1995 was promoted to Professor. In 2003 he joined the Genetics Department at Harvard Medical School and the Division of Genetics at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Currently, Dr. Elledge is the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and Medicine at Harvard Medical School. In addition to a former Helen Hay Whitney Fellow, Dr. Elledge was an American Cancer Society Senior Fellow, and a Pew Scholar. He has received many accolades and awards for his ground breaking research, including: the Michael E. Debakey Award for Research Excellence (2002), the American Association of Cancer Research G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award (2001), the inaugural Paul Mark’s Prize in Cancer Research (2001), the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology (2001), the John B. Carter, Jr. Technology Innovation Award (2002), an NIH Merit Award (2003), the Genetics Society of America Medal (2005), the Hans Sigrist International Prize of Bern University (2005), the Dickson Prize in Medicine (2010), the American Italian Cancer Foundation Prize for Scientific Excellence in Medicine (2012) and the Lewis Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Sciences (2013). In 2003 Dr. Elledge was also elected into the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2005, and the Institute of Medicine in 2006.