Professor John Mattick
Media Release: 23 April 2014
Professor John Mattick AO FAA FRCPA, Executive Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, will receive the 2014 Ernst W. Bertner Memorial Award, which is conferred on a physician or scientist who has made distinguished contributions to cancer research.
The oldest award conferred by The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, it was established in 1950 in honor of Ernst William Bertner, M.D., who was the first acting director of M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and the first president of the Texas Medical Center.
Past recipients include Nobel laureates Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, Gertrude Elion, David Baltimore and Francis Peyton Rous, as well as Stanley Cohen, who pioneered gene cloning, and Robert Weinberg, who identified the first oncogene.
The award will be officially presented in October at a Symposium on Cancer Research, where Professor Mattick will deliver a talk entitled "Illuminating Genomic Dark Matter: ncRNA in Human Development and Cancer".
Professor Mattick pioneered a major advance in our understanding of the genetic programming of complex organisms. He challenged the orthodox view that the majority of the genome – about 99% of our DNA that does not code for proteins – was non-functional evolutionary debris, or ‘junk’.
Instead, Mattick put forward the revolutionary notion, supported by evolutionary, genomic and experimental evidence, that most genetic information in complex organisms is embedded in non-protein-coding sequences, mediated by RNAs (temporary copies of the DNA).
These RNAs form a previously hidden network of regulatory information that directs the complex processes behind differentiation and development. Naturally, this determines the ways in which cancers and other diseases develop, and now influences the search for novel treatments.
In addition, Professor Mattick was the first to show that non-coding sequences are copied from DNA into RNA in a tissue-specific manner and frequently moved to precise subcellular locations. He also showed their importance for embryonic development, cell differentiation (i.e. what type of tissue stem cells become) and the plasticity of brain function.
Professor Mattick has revolutionised the understanding of the nature and sophistication of human genetic information. The implications of his insights will have a transformational impact on biology, medicine and biotechnology.