Following their formal announcement at the 2018 Annual General Meeting, Council is delighted to congratulate the 2018 Honorary Members of The Society.
Graham Burton was awarded Honorary Membership primarily in recognition for his work on placental physiology in which he has a long-standing interest. Having qualified in medicine from the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and pursued research at Cambridge, he now holds the Mary Marshall and Arthur Walton Professorship of the Physiology of Reproduction at Cambridge. One of his most important findings is that the human embryo in the uterus is supported by nutrition from the endometrial glands during the period of organogenesis, prior to onset of the maternal arterial circulation to the placenta at the end of the first trimester. He has published his research findings in The Journal of Physiology, organised symposia at Society meetings, mentored numerous young researchers and had a keen involvement in outreach activities designed to increase public awareness of the importance of research in reproductive physiology. He is the inaugural Director of the Centre for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge and was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2011.
Burton showed that in contrast to the dogma at the time, the maternal arterial circulation to the human placenta is not fully established until towards the end of the first trimester. He was the first to demonstrate that nutrition of the human conceptus during the first three months of pregnancy is derived from the uterine glands, and that consequently early development occurs in a physiologically low oxygen environment. This finding has transformed our understanding of the physiology of early pregnancy, representing a paradigm shift in the field. The finding has implications for assisted reproductive technologies, where culture of human blastocysts under low oxygen conditions is now widely practised. In addition, he has shown that oxygen is a major regulator of placental development, pioneering research into placental oxidative and endoplasmic reticulum stress and their contribution to complications of pregnancy such as miscarriage, intrauterine growth restriction and pre-eclampsia. Most recently, Burton and his team were the first to derive long-term, hormone-responsive organoid cultures of human endometrium. These open new avenues for research into the dialogue between the placenta and endometrium during early pregnancy (published in Nature Cell Biology last year) and has internationally attracted considerable attention by both experts and the media.
Michael W. Young
Michael W. Young was awarded Honorary Membership in recognition of the physiological importance of his work on the molecular mechanisms responsible for circadian rhythms, for which he was joint recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Jeffrey C. Hall and Michael Rosbash.
Michael Young is Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Genetics at The Rockefeller University. He is also the University’s Vice-President for Academic Affairs. Young received a BA in biology in 1971 and a PhD in genetics in 1975, both from The University of Texas, Austin. Young is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. In addition to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, he (along with colleagues Jeffrey Hall and Michael Rosbash), received the 2009 Gruber Neuroscience Prize, 2011 Horwitz Prize, 2012 Canada Gairdner International Award, 2012 Massry Prize, 2013 Wiley Prize, and the 2013 Shaw Prize for discoveries of molecular mechanisms that control circadian (daily) rhythms.
Young has used the fruit fly, Drosophila for his studies of the circadian clock. The clock gene period, was first cloned by Young, and screens in his laboratory have identified five additional genes that are each essential for production of circadian rhythms. Interactions among these genes, and their proteins, contribute to a network of molecular oscillations within single cells. Young’s discovery and characterization of timeless showed that it permits movement of the transcription factor Period to the nucleus only at night, establishing daily rhythms of period, timeless and other gene activities within the clock. Timeless was also found to be a light-sensitive protein, explaining how circadian rhythms entrain to environmental cycles. Young’s studies of the clock genes double-time and shaggy, casein kinase 1 and GSK-3 orthologs respectively, showed these affect the period length of the rhythm by controlling phosphorylation and stability of Period and Timeless. Most of the clock genes discovered by Young and his colleagues in Drosophila are also central to the circadian pathways of vertebrates. Recently, Young’s laboratory showed that a prevalent human sleep disorder is caused by dysfunction of a circadian clock gene.