Professor Patricia Hunt awarded prestigious prize in developmental biology

Closeup of Patricia Hunt
Patricia Hunt

Patricia Hunt, a Regents professor in Washington State University’s School of Molecular Biosciences, was awarded the 2022 Richard B. Johnston Jr. M.D. Prize in Developmental Biology.

The annual award presented by the March of Dimes recognizes outstanding researchers who have advanced science as it relates to pregnancy, birth, and prenatal development. Six previous recipients went on to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

“Peer recognition is always wonderful, but this is very special for two reasons: The March of Dimes has focused on improving the health of mothers and babies for over 80 years, and the list of previous awardees places me in very distinguished company,” Hunt said. “In addition, because my PhD mentor received the award in 2011 and my postdoc mentor received it in 2007, the award feels like a tribute to the wonderful women who mentored me.” 

Hunt’s research focuses on understanding the high frequency of chromosomally abnormal eggs produced by human females and why the incidence is so strongly impacted by advancing maternal age. 

She remains fascinated by this complex problem, but the accidental exposure of her research mice to bisphenol A (BPA) in 1998 diverted her attention to the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals. She later found exposure to bisphenol A, a common substance in plastics, can increase the risk of prenatal abnormalities by altering egg quality. 

“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 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.”

March of Dimes, which is dedicated to the health of mothers and their children, created the prize in developmental biology as a tribute to Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine. The award is named in honor of Dr. Johnston, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, and carries a $150,000 prize.

Hunt will be presented the award at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Society for Reproductive Investigation on March 25 in Brisbane, Australia.

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