June 29, 2012 — Douglas C. Wallace, PhD, director of the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, will receive the 2012 Genetics Prize of The Gruber Foundation. This prestigious international award — a $500,000 prize — recognizes Wallace’s pioneering scientific investigations of the wide-ranging role of mitochondria in the development of disease and as markers of human evolution. Mitochondria are the tiny power plants within the cytoplasm of animal and plant cells.
Wallace will receive the award on Nov. 9 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics in San Francisco. The Gruber Foundation, now based at Yale University, announced the Genetics Prize on June 28. The Foundation’s Genetics Prize annually honors leading scientists for groundbreaking contributions to genetics research.
Dr. Wallace's research shaping approach to therapies for genetic disorders
Philip R. Johnson, MD, chief scientific officer at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, acknowledged Wallace’s achievements, saying, “The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute is privileged to number Douglas Wallace among our research leaders. His commitment to the field of mitochondrial genetics and his pioneering nature embody the mission of research at CHOP, and his research and leadership are shaping the way we approach therapies for genetic disorders previously considered beyond treatment.”
“Douglas Wallace’s contributions to our understanding of mitochondrial genetics have changed the way human and medical geneticists think about the role of mitochondria in human health and disease,” said Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, chair of the Selection Advisory Board to the Prize. Blackburn, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, also received the Gruber Genetics Prize in 2006.
Pivotal research prior to joining CHOP
Wallace, who came to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2010 to launch the Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine, first achieved prominence in the 1970s as the leader of a research team at Stanford University that defined the genetics of mitochondrial DNA. This DNA resides within each mitochondrion, as distinct from the more familiar nuclear DNA inside chromosomes. His group showed that human mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively from the mother.
This discovery, coupled with other findings, allowed the researchers to reconstruct ancient human migration patterns over hundreds of millennia, a major contribution that bridges genetics and anthropology. Wallace and colleagues also have linked mutations in mitochondrial DNA to a broad range of human diseases, including types of blindness, deafness, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, neuropsychiatric conditions, and age-related diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Current research focus
The Center for Mitochondrial and Epigenomic Medicine at Children’s Hospital researches mitochondrial dysfunction in many clinical problems, and also focuses on preclinical studies relevant to developing therapies for mitochondrial diseases, for which few effective clinical treatments currently exist.
Dr. Wallace's professional roles
Wallace holds the Michael and Charles Barnett Endowed Chair in Pediatric Mitochondrial Medicine at Children’s Hospital and also is a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the nation’s premier organization of leading researchers, as well as the Academy’s Institute of Medicine, and is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.