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The King Lecture

Clare Hall hosts the King Lecture each year, within its wider lecture series.

The Future of CRISPR: What’s Ahead for Genome Editing

Photo: Ian Olsson

We were delighted to welcome Jennifer Doudna, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology, as our speaker for the 2023 King Lecture on the 10th of November.

Professor Doudna’s lab’s research into RNA biology led to the discovery of CRISPR-Cas9 as a tool for making targeted changes to the genome. Current research in the Doudna lab focuses on discovering and determining the mechanisms of novel CRISPR-Cas and associated proteins; developing genome editing tools for use in vitro, in plants, and in mammals; and developing anti-CRISPR agents. Professor Doudna spoke to a full audience about CRISPR as a tool for genome editing, its impacts for human health, and the future of CRISPR.

Genomic Analysis of Inherited Breast and Ovarian Cancer from Gene Discovery to Precision Medicine and Public Health

Mary-Claire King, Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, gave the King Lecture in March 2019. Professor King was the first to show that breast cancer is inherited in some families, as the result of mutations in the gene that she named BRCA1. In addition to inherited breast and ovarian cancer, her research interests include the genetic bases of schizophrenia, the genetic causes of congenital disorders in children, and human genetic diversity and evolution. She pioneered the use of DNA sequencing for human rights investigations, developing the approach of sequencing mitochondrial DNA preserved in human remains, then applying this method to the identification of kidnapped children in Argentina and subsequently to cases of human rights violations on six continents.

Paradigm Shift in Biology

Photo: Phil Mynott

Professor Michael N. Hall, Biozentrum University of Basel, Switzerland, gave the King Lecture in May 2018. Professor Hall is a pioneer in the fields of TOR signalling and cell growth control. In 1991 he discovered a protein which regulates cell growth, cell size and cell division in yeast cells. Since the function of this protein is inhibited by the substance rapamycin, Professor Hall gave the growth regulator the name ‘Target of Rapamycin’ or for short ‘TOR’. TOR is a conserved protein kinase activated by growth factors, nutrients, and insulin. It is a central controller of cell growth and metabolism, and plays a key role in ageing and the development of diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease. Insights into TOR signalling pathways have been applied for new therapeutic strategies. In 2017, Professor Hall received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.

The Uniqueness of Biological Understanding

Dr Marc Kirschner delivered the second in the series of King Lectures in Biomedical Sciences, focusing on aspects of evolution and highlighting some of his key findings. Dr Kirschner was the founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology. He and John Gerhart are co-authors of Cells, Embryos, and Evolution (Blackwell, 1997) and The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin¹s Dilemma (Yale University Press, 2005). Dr Kirschner was elected Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London and as a Foreign Member of the Academia Europaea in 1999. In December 2003 he received the E.B. Wilson Medal, the American Society of Cell Biology¹s highest scientific honour. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has served on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health and as President of the American Society for Cell Biology. Dr Kirschner¹s laboratory investigates three broad, diverse areas: regulation of the cell cycle, the role of cytoskeleton in cell morphogenesis, and mechanisms of establishing the basic vertebrate body plan.

The Paradoxes of Scientific Life in America

Dr Harold Varmus delivered the inaugural King Lecture in Biomedical Sciences in April 2016, at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He gave an account of past, present and future challenges in cancer research, followed by a lecture at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, describing current research in the Varmus Laboratory. Finally, Clare Hall members and scientists from around Cambridge gathered for a lecture titled ‘The Paradoxes of Scientific Life in America’ – a reflection on Professor Varmus’ career in research and the many challenges facing those undertaking a scientific career.

Dr Varmus received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1989, jointly with J. Michael Bishop, for their discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. This work was performed at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. Dr Varmus was the Director of the US National Institutes of Health / NIH (1993 – 1999), President of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (2000 – 2010), and Director of the National Cancer Institute (2010 – 2015).

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