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Stanford’s Roeland Nusse wins 2017 Breakthrough Prize

Congratulations to Stanford developmental biologist Roeland Nusse, PhD, who has been awarded a $3 million 2017 Breakthrough Prize for his work in understanding connections between embryonic development, cancer and tissue regeneration. The award was one of several totaling about $25 million announced last evening at a star-studded gala at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View.

“When I came to this country many years ago I found a place that was welcoming to people from all over the world and open to ideas, and it is because of that openness that tremendous things have happened here,” Nusse, who joined Stanford’s Department of Developmental Biology in 1990, said upon receiving the honor. Earlier, in our announcement on the prize, he referred to the award as a "complete surprise" and said he sees it “as a great honor for the entire community."

Nusse, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a member of Stanford's Ludwig Center for Cancer Stem Cell Research and Medicine, studies a family of signaling molecules called Wnts. They were originally identified as being highly expressed in some cancers, but it quickly became apparent that they are critical players in the embryonic development of many organisms as well. More recently, Nusse and his colleagues have been exploring the role Wnts play in the activation of tissue-specific stem cells in adult animals.

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, commented:

Roel has devoted his career to identifying one of the major signaling molecules in embryonic development, and clarifying its role in cancer development and in tissue regeneration. The importance of Wnt signaling in these processes cannot be overestimated. His work has been the foundation of much of modern developmental biology, and we are very proud of his contributions.

The Breakthrough Prizes were established in 2013 by Sergey Brin of Google and Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe; Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Priscilla Chan, MD, of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; and Yuri Milner of DST Global and Julia Milner. They honor paradigm-shifting research in the fields of fundamental physics, the life sciences and mathematics; Stanford bioengineer Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, won a prize last year.

"The Breakthrough Prizes are a sign of the times," Nusse told me. "Together with the recently announced Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, they show how the wealth of Silicon Valley is now making an impact not just in the field of computer science, but also in biomedical fields. This is very exciting."

Previously: Stanford bioengineer Karl Deisseroth wins 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Liver stem cell identified in mice and Which way is up? Stem cells take cues from localized signals, say Stanford scientists
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

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