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CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna receives inaugural Kimberly Prize

Annual biochemistry and molecular genetics award recognizes a scientist whose major molecular discovery has improved human health

  • The Kimberly Prize is the largest biochemistry award offered in the U.S.
  • Doudna and collaborator won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  • Doudna will give a public lecture on the Chicago campus in spring 2023

CHICAGO --- Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics announced today (Sept. 14) that CRISPR pioneer and Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna is the recipient of the inaugural $250,000 Kimberly Prize in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.  

Doudna was selected for her fundamental biochemical studies providing molecular insight into the function of CRISPR/Cas9 systems as tools for genome editing and the application of her work to biology and medicine.  

The new award, given by Kimberly Querrey in honor of her late husband, Lou Simpson, a Northwestern trustee, alumnus and benefactor, is the largest biochemistry award offered in the U.S. It will be awarded annually to a scientist who has made outstanding biochemical research contributions to the molecular basis of life with a direct demonstrated link of their discovery into the clinic that improves human health. 

“Jennifer is a superbly talented scientist, an extraordinary visionary, and her landmark discoveries are revolutionizing biomedical science,” said Dr. Eric G. Neilson, Lewis Landsberg Dean and Vice President for Medical Affairs at Feinberg. “There is no more deserving scientist to receive the inaugural Kimberly Prize, and no one who better honors the remarkable contributions made by Kimberly and Lou to the advancement of science.”

“Centuries from today, people will remember discoveries by Darwin, Curie, Einstein, Watson and Crick and Doudna. Her findings and impact on humanity are of that caliber,” said Ali Shilatifard, director of the department of biochemistry and molecular genetics at Feinberg and director of Northwestern’s Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics, which awards the annual Kimberly Prize. “Lou enjoyed his interactions with people who were visionaries and insightful with a passion for their craft. Jennifer and her science are everything Lou would want to support.” 

"I am honored to be the inaugural recipient of this prestigious award,” Doudna said. “By establishing this prize, Northwestern University is underscoring the importance of supporting fundamental research for the betterment of society. I'm excited about the opportunities ahead of us to further develop and apply tools such as CRISPR technology to help solve real-world challenges across human health, including agriculture and our environment." 

About the 2022 recipient

Doudna is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair and a professor in the departments of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her collaboration with Emmanuelle Charpentier on the groundbreaking development of CRISPR-Cas9 as a genome-engineering technology earned them the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and forever changed the course of human and agricultural genomics research.

This powerful technology enables scientists to change DNA—the code of life—with a precision only dreamt of just a few years ago. Basic science laboratories and the pharmaceutical industry worldwide have redirected the course of their research programs to incorporate this new tool, creating a CRISPR revolution with huge implications across biology and medicine. In addition to her scientific achievements, Doudna is a leader in public discussion of the ethical implications of genome editing for human biology and societies and advocates for thoughtful approaches to the development of policies around the safe use of CRISPR technology.

“Jennifer is a wonderful person and scientist and is very generous with her time and talent,” Shilatifard said of Doudna. “She’s the epitome of what a great scientist should be: Not only wanting to do groundbreaking science, but also wanting to inspire others to do the same.”

More about the Kimberly Prize, its origin

The annual prize is administered by Feinberg through the Simpson Querrey Institute for Epigenetics. As a condition of the award, the prize recipient will deliver a public lecture on the Feinberg campus in Chicago, visit with faculty, fellows and students and attend the award dinner. Doudna will give her public lecture this spring.

Querrey and Simpson have been instrumental in supporting Northwestern’s passion for basic molecular discoveries and their application to medicine. 

“That’s what this award represents,” Shilatifard said. “We are building a program here at Northwestern University that is 100% supportive of doing innovative, cutting-edge science, and we are recognizing nationally and internationally individuals who contribute to that process. Kimberly and Lou have been great friends in supporting this extraordinary and essential mission of the University."