A world leader of research in molecular biology and biochemistry, this Nobel laureate is an institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sharp has conducted much of his scientific work at the MIT Center for Cancer Research, which he joined in 1974 and directed from 1985 to 1991. He led the Department of Biology from 1991 to 1999 before becoming founding director of the McGovern Institute, a position he held from 2000 to 2004.
Sharp’s research has centered on the molecular biology of gene expression relevant to cancer and the mechanisms of RNA splicing. His landmark work, in 1977, provided one of the first indications of “discontinuous genes” in mammalian cells, a discovery that fundamentally changed scientists’ understanding of gene structure and earned Sharp the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
His lab now investigates the role that RNA molecules play in switching genes on and off, a function called RNA interference (RNAi). These newly discovered processes have revolutionized cell biology and could potentially generate a new class of therapeutics.
Sharp has authored more than 360 papers. He has received numerous awards and honorary degrees, and has served on many advisory boards for the government, academic institutions, scientific societies and private industry. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.
A native of Kentucky, Sharp earned a bachelor’s degree from Union College in 1966 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1969. He did postdoctoral training at the California Institute of Technology, where he studied the molecular biology of plasmids from bacteria in professor Norman Davidson’s laboratory. Prior to joining MIT, he was senior scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Sharp was a co-founder of Biogen (now Biogen Idec) and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a company that is developing RNAi-based therapeutics. He serves on the boards of both companies.