Arlington, VA – March of Dimes, the leading organization fighting for the health of moms and babies, is pleased to announce Patricia Hunt, PhD as the recipient of the 2022 Richard B. Johnston, Jr., MD Prize in Developmental Biology. Dr. Hunt is a Regents Professor at Washington State University who has made instrumental discoveries in how prenatal development is impacted by aging, mistakes in cell division, and environmental exposures. This annual award honors an outstanding scientist who has advanced the science that underlies our understanding of pregnancy, birth and prenatal development.
The Prize in Developmental Biology was created as a tribute to Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, and is named in honor of Dr. Johnston, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado and a former Medical Director at March of Dimes. It carries a $150,000 award and is part of March of Dimes’ research strategy to address the multi-faceted nature of the maternal and child health crisis. To date, six recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
“Dr. Hunt has significantly advanced the field of developmental biology over the course of her career and we congratulate her on this well-deserved honor,” said Dr. Emre Seli, Chief Scientific Officer at March of Dimes. “She’s credited with providing insight into the complexity of parental age and its effect on prenatal development and was the first to suggest an age-related loss of cohesion as a driving factor.Her lifetime research commitment is already having an impact and will affect the health of future generations.”
Throughout her career, Dr. Hunt has focused on understanding how prenatal development is impacted by aging, mistakes in meiosis, and environmental contaminants. She examined the impact of advanced material age on egg quality and the high incidences of chromosomally abnormal eggs. She was the first to show the effects of age on the oocyte; specifically, that the loss of cohesion in the cell-cycle apparatus renders the oocyte prone to developmental errors. Dr. Hunt then famously made the unexpected discovery that exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), a common substance in plastics, can increase the risk of prenatal abnormalities by altering egg quality. As a result, she received national recognition for her discoveries on endocrine disrupting plastics and influenced consumers to demand BPA-free products.
“The accidental exposure of our mice to BPA during the course of our studies and the media interest the story generated convinced me that making our work accessible to the public is not only important, it is essential,” said Dr. Hunt. “As an ‘accidental toxicologist’ who has helped raise awareness of the risks posed by the many humanmade chemicals that contaminate our daily lives, I am awed by this recognition from the quintessential organization that has focused on improving the health of mothers and babies for more than 80 years.”
March of Dimes will present the award to Dr. Hunt at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Society for Reproductive Investigation in Brisbane, Australia on March 25, 2023.
Dr. Hunt earned her BS in Genetics from Michigan State University and MS and PhD in Reproductive Biology from the University of Hawaii. She completed postdoctoral training at the MRC Mammalian Development Unit and at the Jackson Laboratory. She began her tenure track faculty position in 1998 at Emory University before moving to Case Western Reserve University, where she became full Professor and Chair of Genetics. She later moved to Washington State University.
Find more information about the prize here.
About March of Dimes
March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies. We support research, lead programs and provide education and advocacy so that every family can have the best possible start. Building on a successful 84-year legacy, we support every pregnant person and every family. To learn more about March of Dimes, please visit marchofdimes.org.