The 2007 Roche Medal: John Rasko

Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology

John RaskoJohn Rasko is a haematologist who directs Cell and Molecular Therapies at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and heads the Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program at the Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology. In 1999, he was appointed to the first clinical gene therapy position in Australia. In 2004, he was promoted to a personal chair in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney.

His career in molecular biology began in 1983 when he took a detour during his medical degree to complete a BSc (Med) in prokaryotic DNA replication with Professor R. Gerry Wake at the University of Sydney. In 1993, he was admitted as a Fellow of both the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (Haematology). John commenced PhD studies at WEHI in 1992 with Professor C. Glenn Begley and Professor Donald Metcalf, where he described a novel technology to clone cytokines based on viral activation of autocrine growth factor production. Having been pipped at the post by another group who cloned human thrombopoietin, John reported a series of studies on its basic biology and the first human clinical trial.

Between 1996 and 1999, John was awarded a postdoctoral Damon Runyon Fellowship to work with Professor Dusty Miller at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, USA. There he patented a novel method of gene discovery using radiation hybrids that facilitated the molecular cloning of two retrovirus receptors including RDR (SLC1A5), important for human gene therapy as the target of the most diverse set of retroviruses known. After establishing his laboratory in Sydney, John cloned and confirmed SLC6A19 as the long-sought solute carrier responsible for Hartnup disorder, a human metabolic disease of neutral amino acid transport, and published this work in Nature Genetics. John has led the Australian arm of a team using recombinant adeno-associated virus gene therapy to treat haemophilia B. The short-term success of this liver-directed gene therapy and molecular immunology was reported in Nature Medicine in 2006 and 2007. In addition, a series of discoveries related to the molecular biology of neoplasia involving zinc-finger-containing transcription factors has been made.

John serves on state and national bodies including the Gene Technology Technical Advisory Committee and is active in fundraising for many biomedical charities. He is the immediate Past-President of the Australasian Gene Therapy Society and serves on the editorial boards of Pathology and Journal of Gene Medicine. In accepting this award, John wishes to recognise the contribution of many scientific mentors and collaborators and the support of his family.