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barbara
12-21-2009, 02:50 PM
The top 5 people of 2009
Posted by Katherine Bagley 18th December 2009

From budgets padded with stimulus funding to advancements in stem cell legislation, 2009 has been an all around big year for research. But in The Scientist's mind, a few individuals have stuck out in terms of their contributions, support, and leadership in the life sciences.


Here are our picks for the top five most influential people of the year, presented in alphabetical order:

Francis Collins

Unless you have been living under a rock this year, you know that Collins was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health in August. The geneticist accepted the position after 15 years at the helm of the National Human Genome Research Institute, during which time he helped finish the Human Genome Project ahead of schedule and under budget. Since taking control of the NIH, Collins has been pushing an agenda focused on personalized medicine and stem cell research, backing the efforts by approving 40 new human embryonic stem cell lines as eligible for federal funding. Collins has also found time to be a much more public figure than previous NIH directors, taking time out to rock with Aerosmith's Joe Perry and joke around with Stephen Colbert.

Sheng Ding

For the first time, Ding and colleagues at the Scripps Research Institute induced pluripotency in mouse embryonic cells using only recombinant proteins, avoiding gene manipulation altogether, publishing the research in Cell Stem Cell. The technology, which was named The Scientist's top life science tool of 2009, is being used by Fate Therapeutics, a company cofounded by Ding in 2007, to interrogate stem cell biology in an effort to enable new drug discovery. Ding was also featured in our pages as Scientist to Watch in November.

Bart Gordon

As Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, the 13th term Democrat from Tennessee played a key role in ensuring science got a major boost from stimulus funding. Gordon also authored bills to further nanotechnology research and commercialization (H.R. 554, passed February 11), require that the President create a national water strategy (H.R. 1145, passed April 23), and improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs (H.R. 1709, passed June 8). Gordon also helped allocate $400 million in stimulus funding to start the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy, which funds high risk, high reward energy research. Although the Congressman announced he won't be running for re-election next year, science sure was lucky to have him around in 2009.

Henry Gustav Molaison

Known to scientists for most of his life only as H.M., Molaison is recognized as one of the most important patients in the history of brain science. After undergoing experimental surgery in 1953 to correct a seizure disorder, which included removing two slivers of brain tissue and cutting into the hippocampus, Molaison lost the ability to form new memories. For the next 55 years, he helped transform scientists' understanding of memory, including the identification of two different systems of remembrance -- declarative (names and faces, for example) and motor learning. Molaison died in December 2008 at the age of 82, but not before agreeing to donate his brain to research. This year, scientists at the University of California, San Diego, began slicing the organ into approximately 2,600 fragments in an effort to correlate individual brain structures with specific functions.

Erika Sasaki

Sasaki, from the Central Institute for Experimental Animals in Kawasaki, Japan, led the team of researchers that successfully generated the world's first transgenic primates capable of passing on a foreign gene to their offspring. The research, published in Nature, brings scientists one step closer to being able to use primates as models for studying human neurological and behavioral conditions, such as Parkinson's, Huntington's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The team injected viral vectors with a green fluorescence protein transgene into embryos of marmosets. Out of 80 transgenic embryos planted into 50 surrogate mothers, five offspring survived, all of which expressed the glowing transgene.