Today Richard H. Scheller, an ASCB member and Executive Vice President of Genentech, was named the winner, along with Thomas C. Südhof of Stanford University, of the 2013 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. They won for their separate work in understanding the regulatory mechanisms of neurotransmitter release.
Scheller and colleagues identified a member of a group of proteins now known as SNAREs (Soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor Attachment protein Receptors), which drive membrane fusion. Vesicles and organelles each have unique SNAREs that stick out like antennae. When a vesicle comes close to its intended destination, the SNAREs bind one another like twist-ties, and their binding provides energy that drives membrane fusion. In 1988, Scheller and colleagues published their discovery of VAMP-1, a SNARE attached to vesicles in neurons, in PNAS. These proteins are essential for the release of neurotransmitters, which send messages between nerves throughout the brain and body.