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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Youle Receives 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Dr. Richard Youle

Dr. Richard Youle

Dr. Richard Youle, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is one of four recipients of the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. 

The Breakthrough Prizes were started in 2012 to “honor important, primarily recent, achievements in the categories of fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics.” Youle will receive a $3 million award “for elucidating a quality control pathway that clears damaged mitochondria and thereby protects against Parkinson’s disease.” Previously, laureates were also honored with a televised, Oscar-style award show. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony has been postponed until March 2021.

Youle leads a team of researchers that studies how genetic mutations may cause Parkinson’s disease. About 500,000 Americans are currently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The Breakthrough Prize honors discoveries made by the Youle lab that show how certain disease-causing mutations in genes called PINK1 and Parkin may harm the brain. Their results suggest that the mutations may be linked to a breakdown in the way brain cells dispose of damaged powerplants, called mitochondria. The results have helped researchers not only understand the role the genes play in the healthy and diseased brain but also explore new treatment ideas for Parkinson’s disease and other disorders that are linked to damaged mitochondria.

Youle has served NIH since 1978. Over the years, he has studied a wide range of subjects including the immunology of bone marrow transplantation, therapies for brain tumors and programmed cell death. 

Before arriving at NIH, he received an A.B. from Albion College and a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. He has trained dozens of scientists, published more than 180 peer-reviewed research articles and has been awarded 16 patents. He also received several awards, including three NIH Director’s Awards. 

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