National Medal of Science: Ralph Brinster
October 4, 2011,
Volume 58, No. 06
Ralph Brinster of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has been awarded the National Medal of Science, according to an announcement last week from the White House. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers.
Dr. Brinster, the Richard King Mellon Professor of Reproductive Physiology at Penn Vet, is the first veterinarian and the eighth Penn faculty member to receive the award since it began nearly 50 years ago.
Dr. Brinster is being honored for his research on the manipulation of the mammalian germline, the cells that give rise to sperm and eggs. By inserting new genes into the germline of a developing organism—a process known as transgenesis—researchers can produce animals with selected traits that are indispensible models in understanding life processes and disease.
“Ralph Brinster is a trailblazer in the field of reproductive biology and genetics whose work has had inestimable influence in science and medicine,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “His early findings helped usher in the era of transgenic research and represent foundational aspects of techniques used in genetic engineering, in vitro fertilization and cloning. We are extraordinarily proud that he has received the National Medal of Science in recognition of more than five decades of scientific achievement.”
“The entire Penn community congratulates Ralph Brinster on this tremendously prestigious honor,” Provost Vincent Price said. “He has been a pioneer in using fundamental research to address profound and far-reaching biological questions. His innovations have defined entire fields of inquiry, spurred critical new technologies and transformed the study of human biology and disease.”
Dr. Brinster’s interest in animal genetics and the mammalian germline came from his upbringing on a New Jersey farm and early training at Rutgers University Agricultural School. After military service, Dr. Brinster enrolled in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
He spent the next 50 years researching various aspects of the human and animal germline, most recently including spermatogonial stem cells, which could be used to restore fertility to men undergoing cancer treatments.
“I am incredibly proud of Ralph,” Joan C. Hendricks, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine, said. “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. Penn Vet is thrilled that we are able to count Dr. Brinster as one of our own brilliant scientists.”
Dr. Brinster is not only the first veterinarian but one of the few scientists from an agricultural background to win the National Medal of Science, joining the ranks of Nobel Prize laureates Norman Borlaug and Barbara McClintock.
“Penn has been an incredible place to work; it’s like a family with an extremely supportive environment,” Dr. Brinster said. “I was very surprised and honored to receive this award, and it is well-deserved recognition for the Veterinary School, Penn and the entire field of genetics.”
Prior honorees from Penn’s standing faculty:
Dr. Britton Chance, 1974;
Dr. Paul Gyorgy, 1975;
Dr. Mildred Cohn, 1982;
Dr. Robert L. Schrieffer, 1983;
Dr. Ralph Hirschmann, 2000;
Dr. Raymond Davis, Jr., 2001;
Dr. Fay Ajzenberg-Selove, 2007.