Liron Bar-Peled Wins 2014 Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists

For his research into how mammalian cell size is influenced by its environment, Liron Bar-Peled has been named the 2014 Grand Prize winner of the Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists.

Bar-Peled wrote about this fundamental question in the area of cell and developmental biology in his grand-prize winning essay, "Size does matter," published in the 5 December issue of Science. In his essay, he describes how multicellular organisms rely on environmental cues to dictate cell size: "When nutrients are plentiful, cells engage key programs to increase their size and mass."

Listen to a AAAS Podcast with Liron Bar-Peled | AAAS

Cells sense a diverse array of environmental stimuli through a signaling pathway known as mTORC1, which functions as a master regulator of eukaryotic cell growth, Bar-Peled said. "It turns out that several of the components of this pathway are mutated in human diseases, ranging from a primary immune disorder to glioblastoma and ovarian cancers."

By investigating this pathway, Bar-Peled and his colleagues hope to gain a better molecular understanding of these diseases and develop new ways to diagnose and treat them. "For example, we found, that cancer cell lines that are missing one particular amino acid sensing component, GATOR1, are hypersensitive to mTORC1 inhibitors," he explained. "This suggests that GATOR1 might be a useful biomarker to identify tumors in patients that might be sensitive to FDA-approved mTORC1 inhibitors."

Bar-Peled received his B.S. degree in biochemistry from the University of Georgia and his Ph.D. in biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is currently investigating how cells respond to oxidative stress in the laboratory of Benjamin Cravatt at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla.

"I feel incredibly honored to receive the Science and SciLifeLab Prize as it awards the culmination of years of research," said Bar-Peled. "It not only recognizes my own studies, but also those of my mentors, whose own work built a foundation upon which I could ask these questions. This prize also validates the fundamental importance of how basic biological research can inform about the origins of complex human disease."

The Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists is an annual award aimed at rewarding young scientists at an early stage of their careers. The prize categories include genomics and proteomics, cell and developmental biology, translational medicine, and the environment. The prize is supported by Science for Life Laboratory, a coordinated effort among four universities in Sweden, and the journal Science.

Bar-Peled will receive the US$25,000 grand-prize award for his research in the field of cell and developmental biology in Stockholm, Sweden, on 9 December during an award ceremony and dinner at the Grand Hôtel in the Hall of Mirrors, which held the first Nobel Prize ceremony in 1901.

"Science is pleased to partner with SciLifeLabs to recognize the most promising young researchers conducting groundbreaking life-science research of both fundamental and practical importance to our health and quality of life," said Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science.

The 2014 award also recognizes three category winners, who will receive US$3,000 and whose essays are also published online at Science.

"This year's application round was signified by essays of very high quality, and we are excited to award the most outstanding of these young scientists," said Mathias Uhlén, the director for SciLifeLab and a key founder of the prize. "We look forward to welcoming them to the prize ceremony in Stockholm."

The runners-up are:

Chelsea Wood | Courtesy Chelsea Wood

Chelsea Wood, for her essay on the topic of the environment, "Environmental change and the ecology of infectious disease." Wood is a disease ecologist interested in how parasites and pathogens respond to human impacts on the environment. She received her B.A. degree from Dartmouth College, and her Ph.D. from Stanford University. She did postdoctoral research in Pieter Johnson's lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is currently a Fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows and an assistant professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Michigan.

Simon Johnson | Courtesy Simon Johnson

Simon Johnson, for his essay on the topic of translational medicine, "A Novel Target for Pharmacological Intervention in an Untreatable Human Disease." Johnson is an American Federation for Aging Research Fellow in the department of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He earned his B.S. degree in biochemistry and biophysics at Oregon State University and received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington. His current work is centered on characterizing the role of naturally occurring genetic variation in insulin/IGF-1/mTOR signaling genes on human longevity.

Dan Dominissini | Courtesy Dan Dominissini

Dan Dominissini, for his essay on the topic of genomics and proteomics, "Roadmap to the Epitranscriptome - N6-methyl-adenosine Signals the Way, YTH Proteins Respond." Dominissini received his B.M.S. degree from Tel-Aviv University, Israel, in 2007. He went on to study RNA post-transcriptional modifications for his Ph.D. with Gideon Rechavi at Tel-Aviv University. He is currently a Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Chuan He at the University of Chicago, where he develops novel chemistries for the study of nucleic acid modifications.

About SciLifeLab

SciLifeLab is a Swedish national center for molecular biosciences with a focus on health and environmental research. The center combines frontline technical expertise with advanced knowledge of translational medicine and molecular bioscience. SciLifeLab was established in 2010 and appointed a national center in 2013 by the Swedish government. More than 200 research groups are associated with the center, which is situated at two nodes in Stockholm and Uppsala. SciLifeLab is a joint effort between four Swedish universities (Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University and Uppsala University).