The 2016 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research was awarded posthumously to the late biologist Susan Lindquist, a pioneer in molecular biology, on Wednesday afternoon. 

Lindquist was a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, renowned for research contributions to paradigm shifts in biochemistry, cell biology and molecular biology. 

As the 46th winner of the Rosenstiel Award, Lindquist was honored in recognition of her groundbreaking work on protein-folding mechanisms and the understanding of how protein misfolding manifests in disease.  In gathering to present the award, “we’re also celebrating her incredible impact [on] other students and colleagues that she powerfully infected with her enthusiasm, her insights and her incredible dedication,” Prof. James Haber (BIOL), director of the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center said on Wednesday. 

Words that describe her career’s work include “fearless”, “creative”, “out-of-the-box” thinking and “intuition,” said Lindquist’s former colleague Angelika Amon, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

According to Amon, “15 minutes are nowhere near enough to tell you about how she did science and how she interacted with her colleagues, her students and friends.” Amon emphasized that Lindquist was a “cross-thinker” who cemented together fields within biology, always keen to take risks on novel concepts and with a strong intent to have an impact on human health — especially within neurodegenerative disease and cancer. 

Lindquist built her career during a time when it was not easy for women to enter into academic sciences, said Amon. However, “she knew what she was doing and was relentless in her science.” Amon told the story of how a young Lindquist submitted a grant proposal to the National Institute of Health, only to receive a prompt request for a rewrite. 

“The cover letter of her second submission [read], ‘I hereby submit the same exact grant. … The reason I do this is because I’m convinced that the experiments proposed in the original grant are the exact right experiments.’” The second submission was approved by the panel, said Amon. 

Throughout her career, Lindquist’s work transformed the way people understood the mechanisms of prions, the inheritance of information, the role of proteins in evolution and the use of yeast as a model of neurodegenerative disease, said former mentee Sandro Santagata, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. 

Additionally, while rising through the ranks of academic science, Lindquist also made strides in the tech world, co-founding the company FoldRx Pharmaceuticals and founding companies Yumanity Therapeutics and REVOLUTION Medicines. 

It was the “amazing brilliance of Susan as a scientist, but also her passion,” said former mentee Daniel Jarosz, professor of biology at Stanford University, who highlighted Lindquist’s dedication as a mentor.

“She was an incredible role model,” added former mentee Leah Cowen, professor of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto. “She truly inspired a generation of scientists. People would come from her talks and be completely transformed in how they’d think about their science.”

In addition to the award, the recipient receives a cash prize, which Lindquist’s family is donating to a newly established fund at Brandeis called the Susan Lindquist Fund for Professional Development Career Advancements. The fund will help advance the careers of predominantly women scientists. 

“Given that half my genetic code is made of her DNA, I’m pretty sure I won the genetic lottery,” said Lindquist’s daughter, Nora Buckbee, as she accepted the award on Lindquist’s behalf. “She never lost sight of what is important. Her everlasting goal was to impact the goals of real people and real patients who were dealing with these devastating diseases … [She was] a fierce advocate for women in science.” 

“Our family remains committed to continuing her research. We’ll be supporting initiatives that support women in science and fund women’s health programs. We will also support her last ongoing research project, the study of her own cancer,” said Buckbee.

Established in 1971 by the University, the Rosenstiel Award serves to encourage the development of basic science as it applies to medicine by honoring those who made significant contributions to basic medical research. It is presented annually and by the selection of a board of Boston-area scientists appointed by the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center.