Brinster Awarded National Medal of Science

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Ralph Brinster V’60 Gr’64, the Richard King Mellon Professor of Reproductive Physiology at Penn, has become the first member of the veterinary profession to be awarded the National Medal of Science. The award is the US government’s highest honor for scientists and engineers. It’s the latest in a long string of honors for the 79-year-old Brinster, who becomes the eighth Penn faculty member to receive the medal since it was first awarded in 1963.

Brinster’s groundbreaking research has focused on the manipulation of the mammalian germline, the cells that become sperm and eggs. Through a process known as transgenesis, in which new genes are inserted into the germline of a developing organism, he and other researchers have produced animals with selected traits that provide models for understanding various life processes and disease in animals and humans. His NMS citation praised his “fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice,” and noted that his research “has provided experimental foundations and inspiration for progress in germline genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture.”

The implications of his work for humans are profound.

“Using stem cells that become germ cells,” Brinster has noted, “we have the potential to give children who become sterile as a result of early chemotherapy a real chance to restore their fertility as adults.”

His response to the honor has been typically self-effacing—“I got lucky,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer—and he gave Penn props for being an “incredible place to work” and providing an “extremely supportive environment.”

 “I am incredibly proud of Ralph,” said Joan Hendricks V’79 Gr’80, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “He is undoubtedly the top veterinary scientist in the world, especially if you consider his sustained excellence and demonstrated brilliance over at least five decades, and he is one of the top biomedical scientists anywhere.”

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