American-Swiss scientist wins ‘Swiss Nobel Prize’

American-Swiss scientist wins 'Swiss Nobel Prize'
Photo: Basel Centre for Molecular Life Sciences
An American-Swiss molecular biologist has been named as the winner of the 2012 Marcel Benoist Prize, regarded as the most prestigious Swiss award for science and humanities research.

Michael N. Hall, a professor at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum, is being honoured with what is commonly known as the “Swiss Nobel Prize” for his ground-breaking studies on cell growth and the development of cancer, Swiss federal authorities said on Monday.

Hall, born in 1953, received his PhD from Harvard and conducted post-doctoral research at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the University of San Francisco.

He joined the University of Basel’s Biozentrum in 1987, where his research has earned him numerous awards.

As a young assistant professor in the 1990s, Hall discovered a protein that controls cell growth and size in simple organisms, such as yeasts.

He later found that this growth regulator, which he named target of rampacyn (TOR), was also present in complex mechanisms, such as mammals and human beings.

The drug rampacyn is a growth inhibitor that is today used in cancer therapies as a result of Hall’s research, the government said in a news release.

More recent discoveries by the scientist and other teams of researchers show that TOR plays an important role in the ageing process and the “dysregulation that occurs in obesity”.

Hall’s findings “are now considered part of basic scientific knowledge in biology”, the government said.

A ceremony to confer the award is set for November 27th in Basel.

The Marcel Benoist Prize has been awarded annually since 1920 to top researchers working in Switzerland.

It was created according to the will of French lawyer Marcel Benoist, who lived in Lausanne and died in 1918.

His will called for the establishment of a prize to honour “the most useful scientific discovery or study, in particular in disciplines which are of significance for human life".

The award is now administered by the federal government and the Marcel Benoist Foundation, which will become part of the new department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research in 2013.

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