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New York City
December 2003

NYU School of Medicine Faculty Member Receives France's Highest Scientific Honor

The French Academy of Sciences selected Dr. David Sabatini as the recipient of its highest honor for 2003, the Grande Medaille D'Or (the Grand Gold Medal), in recognition of his scientific contributions to Cell Biology. Previous recipients of the Medal include many illustrious scientists, such as Louis Pasteur, Pierre and Marie Curie, Gustave Eiffel, and Henri Poincare.

The Grande Medaille was presented to Dr. Sabatini at a formal ceremony held in Paris  under the Grand Coupole of the Institut de France.

The Medal is given every year to a French or foreign scientist working in one of the many disciplines represented in the Academy, which include the mathematical, physical, chemical, natural, biological and biomedical sciences. The award recognizes a decisive contribution to science in one of these areas and emphasizes the originality of the discoveries, their international impact, and the awardee's role in creating a true school of research.  The rules of the Academy stipulate that the work of the recipient of the medal must have been carried out in an important area of fundamental research, and must have resulted in new insights and a greater understanding of the discipline in which the award was given.

The Academy cited Dr. Sabatini's work as having revolutionized research in Cell Biology through his innovations in electron microscopy and through seminal biochemical studies on the sorting mechanisms that generate the organizational complexity of the cell.

In the early 1960's Dr. Sabatini introduced glutaraldehyde as a reagent that preserves the fine molecular architecture of the cell, as well as many of its enzymatic activities. His methods led to the discovery of new structures within the cell, most notably microtubules and other components of the cell cytoskeleton. They also helped to elucidate the functional role of subcellular organelles, opening many new avenues of research in cell biology.

Proteins are the most important functional components of cells and much of Dr. Sabatini's research dealt with the mechanisms and pathways, which newly synthesized protein, distributes molecules to their sites of function within the cell. His work on the synthesis of proteins by ribosomes attached to the membranes of the organelle known as the "Endoplasmic Reticulum" set the foundations for the "Signal Hypothesis", which he formulated in 1971 together with his then associate, Gunter Blobel, the Rockefeller University scientist, who, in 1999, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. This hypothesis explains how secretory proteins, such as insulin and growth hormone, synthesized in the deep interior of glandular cells, begin their journey toward the blood stream.  It also applies to many nonsecretory proteins that share their subcellular site of synthesis with secretory proteins but are subsequently sorted to various destinations within the cell. This is the case for many important receptors that remain anchored at the cell surface, where they recognize hormones and growth factors that activate cellular response pathways.

Defects in protein sorting and transport underlie many diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's and certain forms of hypercholesterolemia that lead to atherosclerosis.

Sabatini has also carried out pioneering research using cultured epithelial cells of kidney origin, which provided great insights into the protein trafficking mechanisms that are responsible for the generation and maintenance of the polarized architecture of epithelial cells. Cells of this type, such as those that line the digestive tract and cavities within various organs, form layers that serve to separate different physiological compartments and control transport of molecules between them. A major achievement of his laboratory was the landmark discovery that different types of enveloped viruses, a class of viruses that includes influenza, rabies and HIV, bud from the cellular membrane of epithelial cells with characteristic polarity, i.e. the viral particles are released either from the apical surface of the cell, which faces an external space that communicates with the environment, or the basolateral one, which confronts the internal milieu of the body and is accessible to the bloodstream. These findings explain the routes by which viral infections spread within the organism and throughout the population. They also served as a foundation for a continuing stream of discoveries over the last thirty years, throughout the world, that illuminate how the complex organization of the cell is achieved.

Dr. Sabatini is a native of Argentina, and he received his medical degree in that country from the University of Litoral in Rosario in 1954 and his Ph.D. from The Rockefeller University in 1966 where he remained on the faculty until 1972, when he became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Cell Biology at the NYU School of Medicine.

Dr. Sabatini is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the Institute of Medicine.  In 1986, he was awarded, together with Gunter Blobel, the E.B. Wilson medal from the American Society for Cell Biology, and in 1988 he received the Charles-Leopold Mayer Grand Prix of the French Academy of Sciences.#


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