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On Wednesday, May 23rd, the Pershing Square Research Alliance held its Fifth Annual Prize Dinner at the Park Avenue Armory, awarding its 2018 Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research to seven exceptional groundbreaking scientists in New York City.  The evening began with a panel discussion on synthetic biology, featuring Dr. Jef Boeke, Director of the Institute for Systems Genetics at NYU School of Medicine and Dr. Floyd Romesberg, Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute. Ira Flatow, Host and Executive Producer of the popular podcast Science Friday, moderated the discussion.

In the area of synthetic biology, Dr. Boeke is using yeast as platform for exploring the construction of fully synthetic chromosome. In 2018 he launched the “dark matter project” designed to better understand the “instruction manuals” that specify how human genes are expressed. Dr. Romesberg’s work expands the genetic alphabet and code through the development of a third DNA base pair; he can build proteins with unnatural amino acids. The panel discussed the advances in and challenges synthetic biology research, as well as the ethical questions is raises and possible applications—both medical and commercial—in the future.

The 2018 Pershing Square Sohn Prize winners are: Daniel Bachovchin, PhD from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Kivanc Birsoy, PhD from The Rockefeller University, Alberto Ciccia, PhD from Columbia University Medical Center, Camila dos Santos, PhD from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Benjamin Greenbaum, PhD* from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dan Landau, MD, PhD from Weill Cornell Medicine, and Benjamin Martin , PhD from Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance was formed in 2013 through a $25 million commitment by Bill and Karen Ackman and The Pershing Square Foundation, which partnered with The Sohn Conference Foundation. The Alliance is dedicated to playing a catalytic role in accelerating cures for cancer by supporting innovative cancer research and by facilitating collaborations between academia and industry.  Annually, the Alliance awards The Pershing Square Sohn Prize to young New York based scientists who are engaged in cutting-edge cancer research. For more information, visit

*Dr. Greenbaum is a Pershing Square Sohn Prize – Mark Foundation Fellow, as his work is being supported by the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research in a novel partnership to encourage technological innovation in cancer research.