For her pioneering research to explain the biology of the placenta, the crucial organ for pregnancy in humans and most other mammals, Myriam Hemberger, PhD, has been awarded the 2019 March of Dimes and Richard B. Johnston, Jr., MD Prize in Developmental Biology. March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit for the health of moms and babies.
Dr. Hemberger, Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Medical Genetics at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Canada, is a world leader in the study of placental development, with an emphasis on the impact of the placenta on successful pregnancy outcome. Over the years, she has made seminal contributions to our understanding of the epigenetic gene regulation that leads to successful formation of a placenta in the uterus.
Her 2018 paper in Nature on the prevalence of placental defects in mouse embryos with severe developmental defects was a game changer for the field as it highlighted the potential contribution of the placenta to malformations of the fetus in a far greater proportion of cases than previously thought.
As part of this work, Dr. Hemberger and her colleagues also have done groundbreaking research that uncovered a close connection between placental defects and congenital heart disease, for which they won the inaugural Magee Prize from the Richard K. Mellon Foundation in 2018.
“Dr. Hemberger has made amazing advances in our understanding of pregnancy complications and developmental defects,” says Kelle H. Moley, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for March of Dimes. “We are excited to honor her with our top prize in research. Dr. Hemberger’s work to explain events that take place early in development, including the heart-placenta connection, will make it possible in the future for improved diagnosis and treatment for healthier moms and babies.”
The March of Dimes and Richard B. Johnston, Jr., MD Prize in Developmental Biology is awarded annually to an outstanding scientist who has profoundly advanced the science that underlies our understanding of prenatal development and pregnancy. Shortly before Dr. Jonas Salk’s death in 1995, March of Dimes created this Prize as a tribute to him. Since 1996, the Prize has been awarded 23 times, 10 times to a single individual and 13 times to a dyad working in the same area. A large number of recipients have subsequently garnered or previously earned other major prizes, including the Nobel Prize.
A native of Germany, Dr. Hemberger earned a diploma in biology and her PhD at the University of Freiburg with work carried out at the Max-Planck-Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. She completed postdoctoral training at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto and at the University of Calgary.
In 2004, as an MRC Career Development Fellow, Dr. Hemberger started an independent research group at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, England, UK. She was awarded a tenured position there in 2009 and was promoted to senior group leader at Babraham’s Epigenetics Programme in 2014. She moved to Canada to take up her current post in 2018.
Currently, she is also the Theme Lead of the Genes, Development & Health research group at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI). She also has been a core member of the Centre for Trophoblast Research (CTR) at the University of Cambridge since its inauguration in 2008, and has served on the CTR’s Board of Managers for the last five years. In 2018, Dr. Hemberger was awarded the Athena SWAN Best Practice Award for pioneering initiatives and commitment to women’s careers in science. She received the IFPA Award in Placentology in 2007 for her contributions to the field.
Dr. Hemberger will deliver the 24th annual Prize Lecture today during the 2019 Pediatric Academy Societies annual meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center. At a dinner ceremony this evening, she will receive the Prize, which is a cash award of $150,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who founded March of Dimes.