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McGill scientist wins Israel’s Wolf Prize

Tags: Israel
Nahum Sonenberg

MONTREAL — McGill University biochemistry professor Nahum Sonenberg is the co-winner of Israel’s prestigious Wolf Prize in science for his discovery of the key regulators of protein synthesis in the body.

Sonenberg, who won the prize for medicine, is one of eight scientists from four countries among the winners, announced by the Israeli government on Jan. 16.

Born in Germany, Sonenberg grew up and was educated in Israel, completing a PhD at the Weizmann Institute of Science. He has been teaching at McGill since 1979.

He is currently a James McGill Professor in the department of biochemistry and a senior researcher at the university’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre.

He will share the $100,000 prize with Victor Ambros of the Harvard Medical School and Gary Ruvkun of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Established in 1978, the Wolf Prize awarded in five categories: agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine and the arts. One-third of all Wolf Prize recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.

The foundation’s mandate is to recognize outstanding scientists and artists for achievements in “the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples.”

Sonenberg will receive his prize in May at a state ceremony in the Knesset in the presence of Israeli President Shimon Peres.

In its citation, the Wolf Foundation called Sonenberg “a pioneer and a prominent leader in the field of protein translation” who has been responsible for some of the “key discoveries” in biochemistry.

McGill said Sonenberg’s research has “transformed our understanding of the way that proteins are synthesized in human cells, with implications for diseases ranging from diabetes through hepatitis C, poliovirus and cancer.

“His research has revolutionized understanding of processes ranging from the response to insulin, cellular development, and immunology as well as learning and memory.”

Over the years, Sonenberg has collected a number of other major prizes including the Isaak-Walton-Killam Award for Health Sciences (2005), the Gairdner Foundation International Award (2008), and the Royal Society of Canada’s McLaughlin Medal (2013).

He was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 2010.

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