2010 Lemelson-MIT Prize
Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, an internationally-renowned chemical biologist, has pioneered inventions with a wide range of biopharmaceutical applications throughout her career. While working to advance the diagnosis and treatment of diseases like cancer, arthritis and tuberculosis, she has also made significant advances manipulating the complicated process that takes place inside the living human cell. For these game-changing innovations she has been awarded the prestigious 2010 $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.
From an early age, Bertozzi found herself naturally enthralled by science. Her father, who teaches physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, encouraged her and her sisters to explore technological tools from his projects and demonstrations. This resulted in an enthusiasm for science that later fueled her drive to pursue the education necessary to become a leader in the field of biotechnology and a distinguished professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
While in graduate school, under the mentorship of advisor Mark Bednarski, Bertozzi discovered that different viruses could bind to sugars within the body, which ultimately propelled her into the field of glycobiology – or the biology of sugar molecules – later culminating in her understanding of how sugars mediate cell-to-cell communication. For the last decade, Bertozzi has been working as a professor with a team of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she acts as Director of the Molecular Foundry, to understand this inter-cellular communication. Her research has resulted in several innovations including the invention of the world’s first bioorthogonal chemical reactions, tools for labeling biomolecules in living cells that she hopes will one day lead to a non-invasive method for early detection of diseased tissue in the body.
Through related efforts, Bertozzi created a simple method for precision protein engineering with her development of genetically-encoded aldehyde tag technology. This technology has led to a new approach for the development of novel protein drugs, which could lead to improved treatments for patients. In 2008 Bertozzi and former graduate student David Rabuka founded Redwood Biosciences. With a business model focused on in-house product development and close collaboration with other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, Redwood Biosciences has provided Bertozzi with a vehicle to translate discoveries in the lab to new medicines.
A well-regarded mentor, Bertozzi has trained more than 130 students, including undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students. In her laboratory, she encourages students from various scientific backgrounds to explore their interests in a collaborative and supportive environment. She is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of scientists, and has been actively involved in both high school outreach programs and the K-12 science community, which she believes yields as much of a learning experience for her as for the students.
Bertozzi holds a B.S. in Chemistry from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from University of California, Berkeley. She also completed postdoctoral work at University of California, San Francisco in the field of cellular immunology prior to joining the University of California, Berkeley faculty. She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the MacArthur Fellowship, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, the T.Z. and Irmgard Chu Distinguished Professorship in Chemistry, and is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.