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Roth wins MacArthur 'genius' award

Basic Sciences Division cell biologist Mark Roth receives $500,000 unrestricted fellowship award from MacArthur Foundation

Oct. 1, 2007
Dr. Mark Roth

Dr. Mark Roth joined the Center's Basic Sciences Division in 1989. Since then, he has contributed to major advances in basic biology. Roth's innovative research on metabolic hibernation could lead to major breakthroughs for a host of human ills caused by tissue damage from a lack of oxygen.

Photo Courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation

Dr. Mark Roth is among 24 recipients of this year's MacArthur fellowships, a "genius" award given annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Roth will receive a $500,000 "no-strings-attached" stipend over a period of five years.

Roth, a cell biologist in the Center's Basic Sciences Division, is perhaps best known for his research in reversible metabolic hibernation, a technique that one day may be used to help buy time for critically ill trauma patients on organ-transplant lists and in operating rooms, emergency rooms and battlefields.

"I'm just incredibly humbled and happy to be recognized by such a wonderful organization," said Roth, who has pursued a variety of research avenues, including studies on gene regulation, chromosome structure and function, autoimmune disease and, most recently, induced metabolic hibernation.

"The creative work I've been able to do has depended upon my interaction with people from vastly different scientific backgrounds — people whose scientific orbits wouldn't normally intersect with mine. I'm hoping this fellowship will increase the possibility for more such creative collaborations," he said.

The MacArthur Fellows Program was established in 1981 and includes 756 Fellows. In addition to Roth, those honored this year include a forensic anthropologist, a spider-silk biologist, a short-story writer, a nanotechnologist, a choreographer and a master vocalist, among others.

"As a group, this new class of Fellows takes one's breath away," said Daniel Socolow, director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, in a written statement. "As individuals, each is an original. To the person, they confirm that the creative individual is alive and well, at the cutting edge, and at work singularly and powerfully to make our world a better place. They are people who will change and influence our times."

Roth's work has led to major advances in basic biology, some of which have tremendous potential for human health. In particular, his research on induced metabolic hibernation, in which he has reversibly reduced the core temperature of mice to 10 degrees Celsius without loss of life or neurological problems, could one day lead to major breakthroughs for a host of human ills caused by tissue damage from a lack of oxygen.

"Mark is an exceptionally creative and innovative scientist who has pursued successfully more original avenues of research than anyone I know," said Basic Sciences Division's Dr. Mark Groudine, deputy director of the Center. "In all cases, his rare ability to identify a seemingly intractable problem and tackle it with unswerving focus — even when it required him to learn a completely new field, establish new collaborations, challenge conventional wisdom or develop new technology — has led to major advances in basic biology. In particular, his new research on metabolic flexibility could lead to major breakthroughs in the treatment of stroke, trauma and cancer."

To help move this work forward into the clinical setting, Roth in 2005 founded a Seattle biotechnology company called Ikaria Inc., which earlier this year merged with INO Therapeutics to become Ikaria Holdings, a leader in the development of therapeutic gases for use in critical-care medicine. The company, based in Clinton, N.J., also operates a research and development facility in Seattle.

Earlier this year Roth received the 2007 Award for Significant Technical Achievement by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, a major supporter of his work, for developing technology that "could dramatically improve the survival rate of wounded fighters and provide revolutionary improvements in the prevention and control of other medical complications on the battlefield."

Roth, who joined the Basic Sciences Division in 1989, is also an affiliate associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington. His numerous scientific articles have appeared in such publications as Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the Journal of Cell Biology.

He received a bachelor of science in 1979 from the University of Oregon and a doctorate in 1984 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

For more information about the MacArthur Fellows Program, visit www.macfound.org.

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