The 2010 Avanti Award in Lipids, which recognizes outstanding research contributions in the area of lipid research, has been awarded to David W. Russell, the Eugene McDermott distinguished chair of molecular genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Russell will present an award lecture, titled “Oxysterols: Cholesterol Metabolites of Diverse Function in Mice and Men,” at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the 2010 annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.
Russell received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975 and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of North Carolina in 1980, where he studied in the laboratory of Linda Spremulli. He then moved on to the University of British Columbia as a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow, working with Nobel laureate Michael Smith before joining the faculty at UT-Southwestern in 1982.
Shortly after arriving at UT-Southwestern, Russell began a collaborative effort with another pair of Nobel laureates, Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein. Together, the trio successfully cloned the gene for the recently-purified low-density lipoprotein receptor and characterized the receptor’s functional domains, which helped them elucidate the molecular basis of familial hypercholesterolemia, one of the most common human genetic disorders.
After that, Russell decided to move away from the cholesterol receptor and focus more on the cholesterol itself. Over the next several years, Russell emerged as a scientific leader in elucidating the enzymatic pathways responsible for the metabolic breakdown of cholesterol into other components, such as sterol hormones, vitamins and bile acids. Through a combination of basic biochemical studies and genetic analyses knocking out individual genes involved in cholesterol metabolism, Russell’s laboratory has determined the precise role of each enzyme in the cholesterol degradation pathway.
Russell also has revealed important aspects of the regulation of this cholesterol breakdown and identified the genes responsible for several diseases characterized by abnormal cholesterol and lipid metabolism. And, he identified 24-hydroxylase as the enzyme responsible for most cholesterol turnover in the brain and recently demonstrated that 24-hydroxylase deficiency is linked to defects in memory and learning. The biochemical underpinnings of this connection are currently a strong focus of his lab’s efforts.
“David has an uncanny insight into biochemical processes and seems always able to come up with a critical experiment to test a novel finding,” says colleague Edward A. Dennis, distinguished professor of chemistry, biochemistry and pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego. “His current work on the metabolic role of oxysterols will clearly lead to new science.”
“In addition, as part of the LIPID MAPS Consortium, I have had an opportunity to work closely with David and watch firsthand as he developed a complex lipidomics analysis of the sterol category of lipids,” Dennis adds. “From carefully designed systems biology approaches, he made insightful conclusions and knew exactly how to follow up with imaginative experiments to probe the depths of what underlie his observations.”
The 2010 Avanti Award in Lipids will add to a long and impressive list of honors Russell has received for his studies on lipid metabolism and cholesterol breakdown. He has been awarded the American Heart Association Louis N. Katz Award, the Texas Instruments Kirby Science Place Award, the Endocrine Society Ernst Oppenheimer Award and the Falk Foundation Adolph Windaus Prize, among others. He also was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2006.
Angela Hopp (email@example.com) is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB. Nick Zagorski (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a science writer at ASBMB.