The Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal is awarded every two years for outstanding research in the medical sciences. The medal carries with it a $25,000 award, and an additional $50,000 for research. The Kovalenko Fund, gifted by Michael S. Kovalenko in 1949 to the National Academy of Science in memory of his wife, Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko, was specifically designed to recognize the achievements made to the medical sciences and, over the past 63 years, has honored many outstanding contributors.
The first Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal was awarded to Alfred N. Richards in 1952 for his outstanding contributions to medical science over a period of a half-century, both as an investigator and as a research executive and administrator. Richards received his first honor in 1897, when he became the first graduate student at Columbia to earn his PhD in physiological chemistry. Richards’ early research focused on the liver and chronic indole poisoning as a possible cause for cyclic vomiting in children although later, he notably sought to study the physiological and ecological effects of the atomic bomb. Richards served as Chairman of the Committee on Medical Research for President Roosevelt and, from 1947-1950, he served as the National Academy of Sciences’ own President, overseeing the establishment of the National Science Foundation.
Huda Y. Zoghbi, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, and director of the Jan and Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, received the 2016 Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal. Zoghbi has combined cell biology, mouse genetics, and human clinical genetics to reveal fundamental mechanisms underlying a wide range of diseases and disorders. Her forays into basic developmental neurobiology have led to insights in conditions ranging from hearing loss to colon cancer. Her best-known work, however, is in the area of neurology: adult-onset neurodegenerative conditions and post-natal onset neurodevelopmental disorders.
She and her collaborators have made compelling insights into why neurons die in polyglutamine tract disorders, a group of neurodegenerative disorders that includes Huntington disease and the spinocerebellar ataxias. In spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1), Zoghbi discovered that the disease-causing protein is more stable and drives disease through enhanced interactions. Zoghbi demonstrated in animal models of SCA1 that reductions of levels of the protein ataxin-1 “cures” features of the disease, making this a promising therapeutic target. Her work has implications for the larger family of neurodegenerative disorders known as “proteinopathies,” diseases caused by malformed proteins of which Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are the most well known.
Zoghbi has also had a profound influence on the field of neurodevelopment through her work on Rett syndrome, a form of autism. In 1999, Zoghbi discovered that the syndrome is caused by mutations in the X-linked gene MECP2, which binds methylated DNA and is involved in the epigenetic regulation of gene expression. This established Rett syndrome as the first autism spectrum disorder that is caused by largely sporadic gene mutations. Zoghbi would go on to demonstrate that the brain is exquisitely sensitive to MECP2 levels, that doubling MECP2 levels is responsible for a devastating progressive neurological syndrome, and that small antisense oligonucleotides can be used to normalize MECP2 levels and reverse symptoms of the disorder in a mouse model.
Huda Y. Zoghbi (2016)
For her pioneering contributions to the fields of neurodegenerative proteinopathies, autism spectrum disorders, epigenetics, and developmental biology by coupling clinical observation and gene discovery with focused, in-depth mechanistic study.
Stuart H. Orkin (2013)
For his pioneering achievements in defining the molecular basis of blood disorders and the mechanisms governing the development of blood stem cells and individual blood lineages. His work has significantly advanced our understanding of human hematologic diseases and revealed new strategies to prevent and manage these disorders.
For her discovery of recurring chromosome translocations that characterize specific hematological malignancies, a landmark event that caused a major shift in the paradigms relating to cancer biology in the 1970s and paved the way for development of specific treatment for two leukemias.
Jeffrey M. Friedman (2007)
For the discovery of leptin and its role in the regulation of appetite, energy expenditure, and the molecular mechanisms underlying obesity.
Irving L. Weissman (2004)
For his seminal studies that defined the physical properties, purification, and growth regulation of multipotent hematopoietic stem cells.
For his elucidation of the structure, function, and mechanism of regulation of heptahelical receptors, nature's detectors of signals from many hormones, neurotransmitters, and drugs.
For his landmark discovery and identification of genes that control immune responsiveness, and for his subsequent elucidation of mechanisms of antigen recognition and induction of the immune response.
For his discovery and purification of the hemotopoietic growth factors and for their introduction into clinical medicine for the control of blood cell formation and resistance to infection.
For revolutionary accomplishments in human sphingolipid storage disorders, including the discovery of enzymatic defects, the development of genetic counseling procedures, and successful enzyme-replacement therapy.
For the discovery and characterization, with Avery and McLeod, that deoxyribonucleic acid is the chemical substance of heredity, and for his subsequent contributions to our understanding of the biology of streptococci and their role in disease.
Oscar D. Ratnoff (1985)
For his studies of the Hageman trait, an experiment of nature that improved understanding of such bodily defenses as the formation and dissolution of blood clots, inflammation, and immunity.
Henry G. Kunkel (1979)
For his pioneering and influential studies in basic immunology, immune complex disease, immune deficiency disorders, and lymphocytic membrane markers.
Julius H. Comroe, Jr. (1976)
For his immeasurable contribution to the diagnosis and treatment of human disease during his career, which was devoted to the physiology and chemistry of respiration and the mechanical and chemical properties of the human lung.
Seymour S. Kety (1973)
For furthering the essential understanding of balance between hereditary and other biological factors, on the one hand, and psychosocial experimental ones, on the other, in the pathogenesis and manifestations of schizophrenia.
For his laboratory and epidemiological researches on virus diseases, including his major role in the program for the evaluation of the polio vaccine and for his imaginative design for long-term studies of the atomic bomb survivors in Japan.
Karl P. Link (1967)
For his discovery and application of coumarin anticoagulants.
Rufus Cole (1966)
For his notable role in advancing our knowledge of lobar pneumonia and in establishing clinical investigation as a science.
George H. Whipple (1962)
For his contributions of many biological discoveries basic for advances in clinical and experimental medicine.
Karl F. Meyer (1961)
For his outstanding contributions to medical sciences as an investigator, teacher, and administrator over a period of half a century.
Eugene L. Opie (1959)
For his outstanding contributions to medical science and for a life of exemplary devotion to medical education and inquiry into the origins of disease.
Ernest W. Goodpasture (1958)
For his outstanding contributions to medical science and for long and continued devotion to the study of his chosen field of pathology.
Alfred N. Richards (1952)
For his outstanding contributions to medical science over a period of a half-century, both as an investigator and as a research executive and administrator.