Lasker Awards Given for Work in Genetics, Anesthesia and Promoting Women in Science

The coveted prize was awarded to a Scottish veterinarian, two scientists who championed an overlooked protein and a pioneering researcher who helped advance the careers of other women.

Dr. Kyung-Min Noh and Dr. C. David Allis in a lab.CreditCreditAlbert and Mary Lasker Foundation

The Lasker Awards, which are among the nation’s most prestigious prizes in medicine, were awarded on Tuesday to a Scottish veterinarian who developed the drug propofol, two scientists who discovered the hidden influence of genetic packing material called histones and a researcher who in addition to doing groundbreaking work in RNA biology, paved the way for a new generation of female scientists.

The awards are given by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation and carry a prize of $250,000 for each of three categories. They are sometimes called the “American Nobels” because 87 of the Lasker recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

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Dr. John B. GlenCreditAlbert and Mary Lasker Foundation

Dr. John B. Glen

He developed the drug propofol, now a widely used anesthetic that has transformed surgery.

Dr. Glen, the recipient of the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, is only the second veterinarian to win a Lasker in 73 years, according to the foundation.

A pharmaceutical career was an unlikely path for Dr. Glen, but the fact that he was interested in anesthesia was no surprise: for years, he had taught the subject to students at Glasgow University’s veterinary school. “I was anesthetizing dogs, cats, horses — whatever animals came around,” Dr. Glen said in an interview. Once he used anesthesia on a pelican to fix its beak.

When he arrived in the 1970s at ICI Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by AstraZeneca, Dr. Glen had turned his attention to humans and was on the hunt for a replacement for thiopentone, a widely used anesthetic that quickly put patients to sleep but often made them groggy afterward.

In lab tests on mice, he and his colleagues discovered that one of the company’s existing compounds, propofol, seemed to work as well as thiopentone but wore off quickly, without the hangover effect of the earlier drug. Propofol was approved in 1986 in the United Kingdom and in the United States three years later.

The drug, known as the “milk of amnesia” because of its milky consistency, has since been used by hundreds of millions of patients and is credited with leading to the rapid expansion of outpatient surgery because patients recover so quickly.

Joan Argetsinger SteitzCreditAlbert and Mary Lasker Foundation

Joan Argetsinger Steitz

She became a champion of women in her field and trained nearly 200 future scientists.

Dr. Steitz, the recipient of the Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science, said winning the award is particularly significant because it signals how far she has come since her days as an undergraduate lab technician in the early 1960s.

“When I started out being excited by science — but seeing that there weren’t any women scientists — I thought I had no prospects whatsoever,” she said in an interview. “The one thing that I really wanted was to have the respect of my peers for the scientific contributions I made, and for my participation in the scientific community.”