For his "landmark discoveries into the molecular mechanisms of visual system development, function and disease."
Jeremy Nathans, MD, PhD, an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, known for his landmark discoveries into the molecular mechanisms of visual system development, function and disease is the recipient of the 2022 Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science at Northwestern University.
Nathans received his Doctorate Degree in Biochemistry from Stanford University School of Medicine in 1985, and then his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1987. Previously, he earned a Bachelor of Science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following his studies at Stanford, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Genentech, Inc.
Nathans, the Samuel Theobald Professor of the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, has devoted his career to studying the vertebrate visual system. Preeminent among molecular neuroscientists, he identified genes encoding human light receptors (visual pigments) in rods and cones, as well as the mechanisms regulating the expression of these sensory receptors. This work led to his elucidation of the molecular basis of inherited variation in human color variation, including the variations that are referred to as “colorblindness.”
His laboratory went on to genetically engineer mice, so that instead of seeing with only two-color receptors, as mice normally do, they were able to see with three color receptors, as primates do -- suggesting, in the evolution of sensory systems, that the brain has innate plasticity, allowing it to process information from novel sensory inputs unencountered previously. This work suggests that genetic alterations at the receptor level may be the driving force in the evolution of many sensory systems and led to his elucidating the molecular basis of inherited variation in human color vision associated with color blindness.
Other studies from the Nathans laboratory have elucidated the genetics of inherited forms of retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. Nathans’ work on Frizzled receptors and Norrin/Wnt ligands identify the key role of this signaling pathway in retinal vascular development and in maintaining the integrity of the blood-retina and blood-brain barriers as well as the way in which defects in this pathway cause inherited retinal vascular disorders.
Nathans serves on the editorial board of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and he serves on the scientific advisory boards of The Foundation Fighting Blindness, the RYR1 Foundation, the Klingenstein Philanthropies, and the Life Sciences Research Foundation. A member of the National Academy of Medicine since 2011, his work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Edward M. Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience by the McGovern Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the 2013 Arthur Kornberg and Paul Berg Lifetime Achievement Award in Biomedical Sciences from Stanford University School of Medicine.