The Lasker Awards, among the nation’s most prestigious prizes in medicine, were awarded to a Scottish veterinarian who developed the drug propofol; two scientists who discovered the hidden influence of 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 sometimes called the “American Nobels” because 87 of the recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Dr. John B. Glen

He developed the drug propofol, now a widely used anesthetic that has transformed surgery. Glen is only the second veterinarian to win a Lasker in 73 years, the foundation said. A pharmaceutical career was an unlikely path for Glen, but he had been interested in anesthesia for years, teaching the subject at Glasgow University’s veterinary school. “I was anesthetizing dogs, cats, horses — whatever animals came around,” he said. Once he used anesthesia on a pelican to fix its beak.

Joan Argetsinger Steitz

She became a champion of women in her field and trained nearly 200 future scientists. “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. More than four decades later, Steitz has her own lab at Yale University and her work has led to breakthroughs in the understanding of RNA, a type of molecule that carries out many tasks in the cell, such as helping to read the information in our genes. One of her biggest discoveries was particles made up of RNA molecules and proteins, known as small nuclear ribonucleoproteins, or snRNPs, which led to an entire new field of research.

C. David Allis and Michael Grunstein

From opposite ends of the country, Allis at the Rockefeller University in New York and Grunstein at the University of California, Los Angeles, pioneered work that elevated the importance of histones, proteins in chromosomes that had been seen as little more than DNA spools, part of the basic machinery of the cell. They discovered that, in fact, histones play a crucial role in turning genes on and off. The implications for their discoveries are profound. “Mistakes in setting this up seem to be very clearly causing cancer,” Allis said.

New York Times