Clay M. Armstrong, MD, wins 1999 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Clay M. Armstrong, MD, professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, will share the 1999 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. Armstrong was named with Bertil Hille, PhD, professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington, and Roderick MacKinnon, MD, professor of molecular neurobiology and biophysics at The Rockefeller University. The researchers will receive their awards during a luncheon on October 1 in New York City.

The Lasker Award is often cited as a Nobel Prize predictor: 61 Lasker Award recipients have subsequently received the honor. Armstrong is being cited for pioneering research elucidating the physical processes underlying electrical signaling in and between cells. His work unveiled the mechanisms governing the behavior of ion channels. These basic components of all cells play a fundamental role in the conduction of electrical impulses in nerve, muscle, and heart, and control the central nervous system, including the brain, muscle contraction, cardiac rhythm, hormone secretion, and many other vital biological events.

Since the 19th century, scientists have known that nerve impulses were transmitted electrically. Exactly how they were propagated throughout the body, however, was still mysterious. During approximately the same era, engineers working on the first trans-Atlantic cables found that electronic signals would fade and be lost without the use of booster stations along the way. What Armstrong discovered years later was precisely how ion channels function as the nervous system's booster stations, responsible for receiving and reproducing signals as they travel along nerve fibers.

"Conveying nerve impulses through the body is like transmitting an electrical signal faithfully over a very long distance," Armstrong explains. "Both require the equivalent of amplifiers along the way. When a signal enters a cell, it doesn't simply pass

Contact: Franklin Hoke
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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