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Since 1886, the National Academy of Sciences has honored outstanding achievement in the physical, biological, and social sciences through its awards program.
New Award: NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences
Established by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this new $100,000 prize will recognize research by a mid-career scientist at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. Read More
2016 Awards presented on Sunday, May 1 - Video now available!
The recipients of the 2016 NAS Awards will be honored at a ceremony on Sunday, May 1, at 2:00 p.m., during the Academy’s 153rd annual meeting. The ceremony will also include the presentation of the Academy’s Public Welfare Medal to Alan Alda. Watch the video
2016 NAS Public Welfare Medal presented to Alan Alda on Sunday, May 1 - Video now available!
Alan Alda, actor, director, writer, and science communicator, received the 2016 Public Welfare Medal to honor his "extraordinary application of the skills honed as an actor to communicating science on television and stage, and by teaching scientists innovative techniques that allow them to tell their stories to the public." The medal is the Academy's most prestigious award, established in 1914 and presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good. Watch Alda's Acceptance
This annual prize was established through a generous gift from Raymond and Beverly Sackler and their foundation to recognize significant advances in convergence research -- the integration of two or more of the following disciplines: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biomedicine, biology, astronomy, earth sciences, engineering, and computational science -- and achievements possible only through such integration. This year's inaugural prize is being awarded for convergence research that benefits human health.
Chad A. Mirkin, Director, International Institute for Nanotechnology and George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry at Northwestern University, is the inaugural recipient of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Convergence Research. Mirkin is honored for "impressively integrating chemistry, materials science, molecular biology, and biomedicine in the development of spherical nucleic acids and new types of nanostructures that are widely used in the rapid and automated diagnosis of infectious diseases and many other human diseases—including cancers and cardiac disease—and in the detection of drug-resistant bacteria."
Pictured left to right: Cherry A. Murray, Chad A. Mirkin, and NAS President Ralph Cicerone.
Inside cells, DNA generally occurs in two forms—linear strands and circular rings. In 1996, Mirkin invented and synthesized a new form, called spherical nucleic acids, or SNAs, which consist of densely packed and highly oriented single- or double-stranded DNA templated onto the surface of a nanoparticle core. Mirkin initially intended to create particles that could be programmed to bond together to form designer materials, an area that has spawned a new subfield of materials science. But SNAs proved to be equally useful in biology and medicine. What drives the emerging biomedical application of SNAs are the unusual properties of this class of nucleic acids. For example, SNAs can easily enter cells without the need for a toxic co-carrier, a property not associated with natural forms of nucleic acids. This property stems from the ability of receptors on the surfaces of cells to recognize the three-dimensional SNA architecture and trigger an internalization process called endocytosis. Since it is the architecture of SNAs that enables these biological interactions, SNAs are compatible with a diversity of materials in the nanoparticle core, including inorganic, organic, and biological materials; this feature thereby expands the potential functionality of SNAs in biological systems.
The unique properties of SNAs have proven valuable in medical research and the development of diagnostics and treatments for disease. For example, many researchers now use SmartFlaresTM, intracellular probes based on SNAs, to track the expression of genes in living cells. In this system, SNAs are combined with short reporter oligonucleotides with fluorophore labels. The complex binds to specific mRNA in a cell and releases the reporter strands, which can be detected by fluorescence imaging and flow cytometry techniques. The Verigene diagnostic system—developed and commercialized by Nanosphere, one of three companies launched by Mirkin—can rapidly and accurately detect many markers of infectious disease, cancer, and cardiac disease, and in many cases, decrease the amount of time needed for a medical diagnosis. SNAs also have found use as nanotherapeutics, resulting in numerous compounds that may lead to treatments for cancer, psoriasis, and diabetic wounds. Already more than 1,800 products have resulted from SNA technology, and SNAs are expected to provide further advances to human health and society.