Howard Chang awarded the 2024 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences

The professor of dermatology and genetics was honored with the 2024 Lurie Prize for his studies into the role of long noncoding RNA in health and disease.

- By Krista Conger

Howard Chang

Howard Chang, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology and genetics and the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Professor in Cancer Research, has been awarded the 2024 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. He was honored for his research into the role of long noncoding RNAs — genetic sequences that don’t encode instructions for proteins but play a vital part in cell biology — in health and disease.

“The goal of my research has been to understand how cells make decisions to turn genes on and off, and how they remember those decisions,” Chang said. “This new class of RNA is a very important way cells make these choices and give us valuable insights about cancer and other diseases, including autoimmune disorders.”

Recently, Chang led a study that found that one long non-coding RNA, or lncRNA, called Xist, is involved in processes that may explain why women are much more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and scleroderma.

“Dr. Chang’s work unveiling the noncoding genome represents a landmark achievement in advancing our understanding of cancer and autoimmune diseases,” said Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, president and CEO of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in a prepared statement. “His research embodies the innovative spirit of the Lurie Prize. It has significantly contributed to our understanding of how genes are controlled and has helped lay the groundwork for developing new and more effective therapies for these diseases.”

In 2013, Chang’s team together with professor of genetics William Greenleaf, PhD, developed an experimental technique they dubbed ATAC-Seq to identify regions of chromosomes that harbor regulatory elements that control gene expression. ATAC-Seq was 1 million times more sensitive than previous techniques, and it transformed the field of genetics.

“The study of long non-coding RNAs has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade,” Chang said, “and this was made possible by technology developed at Stanford Medicine that made it easier to detect changes important in health and disease. This research would not have been possible without my collaborators, students and trainees.”

The Lurie Prize is awarded annually to recognize outstanding achievements by researchers aged 52 years or younger. It includes a $100,000 monetary award, and recipients are selected by a jury of biomedical researchers. Chang will receive the prize in October in Washington, D.C.

“I am honored and humbled to follow in the footsteps of previous recipients, whom I admire very much,” Chang said.

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