IPN PI Profile: Dr. Nahum Sonenberg

Dr. Sonenberg received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) in 1976. He joined the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, New Jersey as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow with Aaron Shatkin. In 1979 he moved to Montreal to become an Assistant Professor and later Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University.  In 1985-86 he took a sabbatical leave and was visiting professor in David Baltimore’s laboratory at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Between 2002 and 2016 Dr. Sonenberg was a James McGill Professor, and since 2017 he is a Gilman Cheney Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre at McGill.

Dr. Sonenberg studies the molecular basis of the control of protein synthesis in eukaryotic cells and its importance in diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes and neurological diseases. His research focuses primarily on the elucidation of the mechanism of translation initiation in eukaryotes and its regulation during development, differentiation and neoplasia. Dr. Sonenberg carried out pioneering and fundamental work that laid the basis for the understanding of how translation initiation factors promote ribosome binding, and the regulation of initiation factor activity by extracellular stimuli (growth factors, hormones, G-protein-coupled receptor agonists, cytokines and mitogens), and viruses. He made seminal discoveries demonstrating that control of translation initiation is implicated in cancer, learning and memory, autism and fragile X-syndrome.

Dr. Sonenberg's contributions have been focused on a common aim – to reveal how the central and fundamental process of protein synthesis is controlled in animal cells, and the means by which this control is subverted by pathogens, and in diseases such as cancer, virus infections and neurodevelopmental disorders. There are therapeutic applications to many of his discoveries including novel gene therapy approaches, drug targets for cancer treatment, and antiviral therapeutics. He made important discoveries concerning the basic mechanism and regulation of translation in eukaryotic systems that impact on a large range of biological mechanisms.

Dr. Sonenberg was recognized for his achievements with numerous prizes and honours. In 2002, he was awarded the Robert L. Noble Prize from the National Cancer Institute of Canada; he has been a fellow of The Royal Society of Canada since 1992; he received the Killam Prize for Health Sciences in 2005 and the Gairdner International Award in 2008; he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and The Royal Society of London, UK in 2006. He became a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and received the Rosenstiel Award in 2012. In 2013 he was elected an Associate Member of the EMBO; in 2014 Dr. Sonenberg received the Wolf Prize in Medicine, and in 2015 he was elected Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and Member of the National Academy of Medicine, USA.

The Sonenberg lab website can be found here.