Gems from Distant Shores: The 2012 Vilcek Foundation Prizes
Prashant Nair and Jan Vilcek, The FASEB Journal
Six years ago, The FASEB Journal reported the inauguration of an annual prize to recognize the contributions of foreign-born scientists to the biomedical research enterprise in America (1). The report described the new prize, sponsored by the Vilcek Foundation (2), as a fitting tribute to foreign-born scientists working in the United States. As a testament to those contributions, the authors pointed out that at least one in three Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine who were active in the United States since the launch of the prize hailed from outside the country. Since that report, evidence of the major role of non-native researchers in American biomedicine has steadily mounted. Non-native scientists figure prominently among Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, including the 50 Early Career Investigators selected from among the nation's young scientists (3). Many are recipients of the Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, awarded annually since 2008 by The New York Academy of Sciences (4).
The Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science honors major contributions made by immigrant scientists at or near the peak of their careers (2). To recognize the achievements of a younger generation of immigrant researchers, a Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science was awarded starting in 2009. All told, 11 biomedical scientists, born in nine countries across three continents, have been honored thus far (Table 1). [Similar to the prizes for achievements in biomedical research, the Vilcek Foundation honors prominent artists from different fields of art each year (2).] This year, both Vilcek Prizes in biomedicine were awarded to researchers who developed innovative ways to study the behavior of individual biological molecules inside cells.