Don W. Cleveland
  • 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences


American cancer biologist and neurobiologist. Department Chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). He received the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for "elucidating the molecular pathogenesis of a type of inherited ALS, including the role of glia in neurodegeneration, and for establishing antisense oligonucleotide therapy in animal models of ALS and Huntington's disease."

Education and Work Experience

1977, Ph.D., Princeton University
1995-Present, Professor, Departments of Medicine, Neuroscience and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, UCSD
2003-Present, Head, Laboratory for ALS Research in San Diego
2008-Present, Chair, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, UCSD

Honors and Awards

1999, Sheila Essey Prize
2012, Katharine Berkan Judd Award, Memorial Sloan Kettering
2013, President, American Society for Cell Biology
2018, Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

Major Academic Achievements

Cleveland has made ground-breaking contributions in the regulation of assembly of mitotic spindles and chromosome movement. His group has identified genes and proteins involved in faithful chromosome segregation, including deciphering and reconstructing the signalling cascade of the mitotic checkpoint, the major cell cycle control pathway guarding against chromosome mis-segregation. His group’s efforts have demonstrated that low rates of missegregation drive tumorigenesis, but high rates can suppress it. Most recently, his research has achieved a significant breakthrough in treating Huntington's disease, an inherited and degenerative brain disorder for which there is no cure. A one-time injection of a new DNA-based drug treatment - known as ASO (short for antisense oligonucleotide) - blocked the activity of the gene whose mutation causes the disease. A single treatment silenced the mutated gene responsible for the disease, slowing and partially reversing progression of the fatal neurodegenerative disorder in animal models. This drug, called IONIS-HTTRx, is now in a Phase 1/2a clinical study.