December 17th, 2013 | Sci-Tech

Genetics professor nets $3 million

Richard Lifton, Yale genetics professor, chair of the genetics department and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was one of six scientists awarded the second annual $3 million 2014 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences last Thursday.

The Breakthrough Prize, which at $3 million is nearly triple the cash award accompanying the Nobel Prize, was founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki and Art Levinson to recognize excellence in research “aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” Lifton and the other winners of the Breakthrough Prize were honored at a star-studded gala ceremony in Mountain View, California, which was hosted by Kevin Spacey and had celebrities Glenn Close, Rob Lowe, and Michael C. Hall, among others, in attendance.

Lifton was cited for pioneering research using genetic methods to understand the causes of hypertension, or high blood pressure, which affects approximately 1 billion people worldwide and is a common risk factor for cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes. Over his 20 years of research, he has identified over 20 genes associated with hypertension and related diseases. Most notably, he discovered that mutations in genes that regulate the quantity of sodium chloride in the bloodstream can contribute to severely low or high blood pressure, lending weight to blood pressure treatments that limit patients’ intake of dietary salt.

The ceremonies also recognized the co-winners of the Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics. Venture capitalist Yuri Milner, present with his wife, Julia Milner, and Zuckerberg announced at the gala’s conclusion their creation of the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, to be awarded next year.

“The Breakthrough Prize is our effort to put the spotlight on these amazing heroes. Their work in physics and genetics, cosmology, neurology and mathematics will change lives for generations and we are excited to celebrate them,” Zuckerberg said.

Other members of the Breakthrough Prize board include Chinese internet entrepreneur Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang.