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Grantees Honored by Royal Swedish Academy

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences — the same group that awards the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics and economics — has awarded two NIH grantees the Crafoord Prize in Polyarthritis (arthritis in two or more joints). This prize is only awarded when a special committee recognizes exceptional scientific progress in this arena. Arthritis and related joint symptoms affect an estimated 43 million Americans and many more millions of people around the world.

Dr. Eugene C. Butcher
Dr. Eugene C. Butcher, a pathology professor at Stanford University, and Dr. Timothy A. Springer, a pathology professor at Harvard Medical School, will share the $500,000 prize. The award recognizes their work on the molecular mechanisms involved in the migration of white blood cells out of blood vessels and into damaged tissue. Such migrating blood cells can help heal injured tissue, but they can also attack tissues, as happens in arthritic joints.

Butcher identified a group of proteins called selectins that are located in the membrane of white blood cells. Selectins bind to carbohydrate chains on the surface of blood vessels. They regulate the movement of white blood cells as the cells roll along the blood vessel wall toward their target tissue. Springer characterized the integrins, a separate group of adhesion molecules in cell membranes, and demonstrated the crucial role of these molecules in cellular immunity. Selectins and integrins interact in a process, described by Butcher, that ultimately causes the white blood cells to abruptly come to a halt after nearing the site of injured tissue.

Dr. Timothy A. Springer
Both Butcher and Springer have produced models to reconcile structure-function relationships of these proteins, and both scientists are applying their findings to the treatment of conditions including arthritis, multiple sclerosis and asthma.

Butcher, a long-time NIGMS grantee whose lab is in the Veterans Administration Palo Alto health care system, also receives support from NIAID and NHLBI. Springer is funded by NCI and NHLBI.

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