Lynne Maquat, PhD, whose work has significantly advanced the understanding of human gene expression, is the recipient of the 2017 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) announced today.
Maquat is the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, New York. She is founding director of the university’s Center for RNA Biology and founding chair of the Graduate Women in Science mentoring program.
Maquat is the 12th recipient of the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science. Established by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) in 2006, the competitive prize honors women scientists with a “stellar record” of research accomplishments who have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science.
“I want to congratulate Dr. Maquat as this year’s recipient of the Vanderbilt Prize. She is internationally recognized for seminal contributions to the understanding of RNA metabolism in human disease,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of VUSM. “In addition, the emphasis she places on her role as a mentor for women in science exemplifies the distinctive nature of this award.”
Prize winners receive an honorarium, meet with Vanderbilt faculty and deliver a Flexner Discovery Lecture. They also mentor Vanderbilt Prize Scholars, women who are pursuing graduate studies in the biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine.
Maquat will receive the prize Nov. 29, 2018, when she is scheduled to give a Flexner Discovery Lecture.
“We are thrilled that Dr. Maquat is being recognized for her pioneering work in RNA biology, which has catalyzed innovative areas of research and provided insight to the role of RNA regulation in human disease,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC Executive Vice President for Research.
“She is a world-renowned scientist and an exceptional mentor, a role model for us all,” said Pietenpol, who also is director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology.
Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Maquat received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Connecticut-Storrs. After receiving a PhD in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1979, she continued her training as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the university’s McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.
In 1982 Maquat was appointed assistant professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo, New York, Roswell Park Division, and as a cancer research scientist in the Department of Human Genetics at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI).
She was promoted to full professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at SUNY in 1993 and vice chair of the RPCI Department of Human Genetics in 1995.
Since 2000 Maquat has been professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and in 2003 was appointed professor of Oncology.
She founded and has served as chair of the Graduate Women in Science program since 2003. She’s also the founding director of the Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics, which was established in 2008.
Through her studies of human diseases, Maquat is perhaps best known for her discovery of Nonsense codon-mediated Messenger RNA Decay or NMD, a fundamental process by which cells eliminate RNA transcripts containing “nonsense” codons — three-nucleotide sequences that don’t code for any amino acid.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. NMD thus is a quality-control mechanism to prevent the generation of abnormal proteins. Deficiencies in this process can lead to disease. NMD also targets naturally occurring transcripts as a means of regulating gene expression.
Maquat’s group also discovered the exon-junction complex, which “marks” spliced mRNAs and plays a critical role in NMD signaling, and also the existence of a “pioneer” round of translation of mRNA into protein. Her discovery of Staufen 1-mediated mRNA decay revealed another previously unappreciated means by which cells regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally.
She has received numerous honors for her scientific achievements, including the Canada Gairdner International Award, the Lifetime Achievement in Science Award from the RNA Society and the Excellence in Science Award from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).
She is an elected member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine.
As a mentor, Maquat has trained nearly 50 graduate students, postdoctoral associates and visiting scientists, a third of them women. Many of her trainees are now leading scientists in their own right.
For a complete list of Vanderbilt Prize winners, go to the VUMC Office of Research website at www.vumc.org/oor and click on the pull-down menu on the “Research” tab.