Nobel Winners Grateful for the Role BSF has Played in Their Careers


At the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, Michael Rosbash receives the Nobel Prize medallion from Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf. Rosbash became the 46th BSF-affiliated scientist to win a Nobel Prize.

When Brandeis University Biology Professor Michael Rosbash accepted his Nobel Prize for Medicine in Stockholm last month, he became the 46th BSF-affiliated scientist to win science’s most prestigious honor.

Rosbash, along with retired Brandeis Professor Jeffery C. Hall, and Rockefeller University Professor Michael W. Young received the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discovery pertaining to the importance of circadian rhythms (also known as the body’s internal clock) in every living thing.

The internal clock has been one of Rosbash’s primary focuses for many years, and in 1987, as part of a project funded by BSF, Rosbash worked with the late Dr. Yoav Citri on a project studying biological clock genes. At that time, U.S. investigators could not receive direct funding from BSF. Citri, who was an Israeli, did receive a BSF grant, which was crucial to the development of their collaborative project.

It is most often early in their careers when scientists and researchers receive BSF grants. By the time a scientist becomes a Nobel Laureate, it’s usually after years, and sometimes even decades, of research. Still, former Nobel winners consider BSF’s recognition of their work to be an integral stepping stone in their careers.

In 2004, two Israelis, Aaron Ciechanover and Avram Hershko, both of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with an American, the late Dr. Irwin Rose of the University of California, Irvine. All three received early career support from BSF. In fact, Hershko and Rose were already working together when they first received BSF grants in the 1980s.

From left, Professor Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, two Israelis, and former BSF grantees, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2004.

“Here, you have a case of two eventual Nobel winners sharing one grant,” Hershko said. “I am indeed very grateful to BSF for supporting my work at this early stage of this discovery. It was very important for me at the time, and I appreciate that this helped me continue my partnership with Irwin Rose.”

They were eventually joined by Ciechanover, who also received BSF support early in his career.

“BSF has supported my research from early stages of my career as an independent scientist,” he said. “I received my first grant from the BSF (along with my Harvard University colleague Alan Schwartz) shortly after returning from a post-doctoral training at MIT. This was crucial for building the network of ties with leading scientists in the USA that I needed in order to acquire technologies and access to platforms that did not exist at the time in Israel. I am deeply thankful for this support from BSF that came at a critical time.”

Ciechanover, Hershko, and Rose won their Nobel Prize for their discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation. Serious illness occurs when this degradation does not work correctly, and their discovery was considered a building block toward developing drugs that can more effectively treat diseases such as cervical cancer and cystic fibrosis.

In 1989, another BSF grantee, Dr. Sidney Altman of Yale University, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Thomas R. Cech of the University of Colorado. They were honored for their transformative study of Ribonucleic acid (RNA), which is a molecule that is essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation, and expression of genes. Altman and Cech discovered that RNA was not merely a passive carrier of genetic information, but could actively aid chemical reactions in cells.

Former BSF grantee Sidney Altman of Yale won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1989.

Altman has studied RNA throughout his career, and has worked on four BSF-supported projects focusing on RNA. These projects gave Altman the opportunity to partner with prominent Israelis, including Raymond Kaempfer and Nayef Jarrous, both of Hebrew University.

“Working with scientists in Israel is always a great pleasure, and the BSF grants gave me opportunities to do that,” Altman said.

Rosbash, Ciechanover, Hershko, and Altman are just four of the many scientists honored with Nobel Awards and other prestigious awards, whose projects and scientific partnerships have been recognized for funding by BSF. For a complete list, click here.