Born in 1954 in Chicago (USA), Cynthia Jane Kenyon graduated with a B.Sc. in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Georgia and Ph.D. in Biology from MIT, where she discovered that DNA damaging agents activate a battery of DNA repair genes in E. coli. She received her post-doctoral training on the genetic basis of growth with Professor Sydney Brenner (KFIP laureate, 1992; Nobel Laureate, 2002) at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K. Her subsequent career has been truly meteoric. She joined the University of California at San Fransisco (UCSF) as an assistant professor of biochemistry and Biophysics in 1986 becoming full professor within only 8 years. In 1997, she was awarded the prestigious Herbert Boyer Distinguished Chair of Biochemistry and Biophysics and is now an American Cancer Society Professor and Director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at UCSF.
Professor Kenyon is noted for her work on the genetics of aging in Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), a tiny nematode developed by Brenner as an experimental animal model for research on molecular biology and genetics. During the early part of her career, she discovered that Hox genes, previously known to pattern the fruit fly segments, were also responsible for body-patterning of C. elegans. These findings demonstrated that Hox genes are not simply involved in segmentation, as originally thought, but instead formed part of a much more ancient and fundamental metazoan patterning system. Kenyon’s groundbreaking discovery in 1993 that a single-gene mutation (called daf-2) could double the lifespan of C. elegans, sparked an intensive study of the molecular biology of aging. Her findings led to the discovery that an evolutionarily conserved hormone (Insulin/IGF-1-like) signaling system influences aging in other organisms, including mammals. This work inspired many scientists worldwide and opened new avenues for identifying genetic, metabolic and environmental factors that can influence the aging process. She published numerous research papers and review article in prestigious journals. Her studies suggested that clinical signs of aging were not inevitable and that the process of aging could be slowed down and its untoward effects could be eliminated or delayed. In recent years, her laboratory focused on the possibility of controlling some old-age diseases such as Alzheimer disease, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinsonism and certain types of cancers by slowing down the process of aging through genetic manipulation and the control of associated environmental, nutritional and hormonal factors.
Professor Kenyon’s outstanding contributions to the science of aging have been widely recognized. Beside the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine, she was awarded the American Association of Medical Colleges Award for Distinguished Research, the Ilse and Helmut Wachter Award for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, and the La Foundation IPSEN Prize. She was also the recipient of a Searle Scholarship and a Packard Fellowship, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a former President of the American Society for Genetic (2003) and one of the founders of Elixir Pharmaceuticals, a firm which seeks to apply the results of research for making drugs to slow down the aging process.
Professor Cynthia Jane Kenyon, has been awarded the prize, for her highly original research, for the first-time, that the process of aging is controlled hormonally through the insulin receptor system. The important outcome of Professor Kenyon’s research is that aging is now amenable to the possibility of hormone-based, therapeutic intervention.