Assistant Professor of Pathology Charles Lee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) has been named the recipient of the 2008 Ho-Am Prize in Medicine. Lee, who is also an associate member of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, received the award for his discovery of widespread structural genomic variation in humans and his significant contributions to this new field of human genetics.
Often referred to as the Korean equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Ho-Am Prize honors scholars who have made “outstanding contributions in their field of study to the better welfare of mankind.” At the age of 38, Lee is the youngest recipient of the 2008 Ho-Am Prize in Medicine.
Prior to Lee’s findings, it was thought that humans were 99.9 percent genetically identical and the 0.1 percent difference between people was essentially all in the form of single nucleotide polymorphisms. In 2004, however, Lee’s laboratory used an advanced genetic-scanning technology called array-based comparative genomic hybridization to examine the genomes of healthy individuals. Lee unexpectedly found hundreds of DNA segments that varied in copy number between individuals (that is, normal people had many large DNA segments that were duplicated or deleted). Extra or missing copies of DNA segments account for more than 18 percent of the human genome, it is now estimated.
“I am truly honored to receive this award and am indebted to the hardworking students and personnel in my laboratory, wonderfully supportive colleagues in my department and institution, and most of all, my valued collaborators in Boston, Toronto, the Sanger Center, Seoul, and elsewhere, from whom I have learned so much over the years,” Lee said.
Established in 1990 by the Samsung Group, the prize honors achievement by people of Korean ethnic origin in five disciplines. Each prize, to be awarded this June in Seoul, includes approximately $200,000.