Scientists honored for COVID-19 tracker, prenatal test

NEW YORK (AP) — A Johns Hopkins University scientist who created a website to track COVID-19 cases worldwide is the recipient of this year’s Lasker award for public service.

The $250,000 awards, announced Wednesday by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, recognize achievements in medical research.

The public service award went to Lauren Gardner, an engineer who studies the spread of diseases. She worked with her lab team to develop the COVID-19 tracker as the coronavirus began spreading worldwide in January 2020. The dashboard became a key resource and now tracks global cases, deaths, vaccines and more. Through it all, the team has made the tracker freely available to the public.

The dashboard set “a new standard for public health data science” and helped inform both personal decisions and policy, the Lasker Foundation said in a release.

The prize for medical research was awarded to Yuk Ming Dennis Lo, a molecular biologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, for creating a prenatal blood test that can check for Down syndrome and other genetic conditions. Lo found that DNA from the fetus was in the mother’s bloodstream, allowing genetic screening to be done with a blood test rather than a more invasive procedure.

The basic research award was shared by three scientists: Richard O. Hynes of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Erkki Ruoslahti of California’s Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and Timothy A. Springer of Harvard Medical School. They were recognized for their research on key immune proteins called integrins, which help cells attach to other nearby cells and molecules. Their work helped launch the field of integrin research, which has since led to new strategies for treating disease.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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