NIH researcher Richard J. Youle receives 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences

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Picture of Richard Youle
Richard J. Youle, Ph.D., 2021 Breakthrough Prize Winner Dr. Youle, a senior investigator at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, has been awarded a 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for his groundbreaking research into Parkinson’s disease. Courtesy of NIH/NINDS.

Dr. Youle has led groundbreaking research into Parkinson’s disease

The Breakthrough Prize Foundation has announced that Richard J. Youle, Ph.D., a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is one of four recipients of the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.  The Breakthrough Prizes were started in 2012 to “honor important, primarily recent, achievements in the categories of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics.” Dr. Youle will receive a $3 million award “for elucidating a quality control pathway that clears damaged mitochondria and thereby protects against Parkinson’s Disease.” Previously laureates were also honored with a televised, Oscar-style award show. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony has been postponed until March 2021.

Dr. Youle leads a team of researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, that studies how genetic mutations may cause Parkinson’s disease. About 500,000 Americans are currently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The Breakthrough Prize honors discoveries made by the Youle lab that show how certain disease-causing mutations in genes called PINK1 and Parkin may harm the brain. Their results suggest that the mutations may be linked to a breakdown in the way brain cells dispose of damaged powerplants, called mitochondria. The results have helped researchers not only understand the role the genes play in the healthy and diseased brain but also explore new treatment ideas for Parkinson’s disease and other disorders that are linked to damaged mitochondria.

Dr. Youle has served the NIH since 1978. Over the years he has studied a wide range of subjects in medical research including the immunology of bone marrow transplantation, therapies for brain tumors, and programmed cell death. Before arriving at the NIH, Dr. Youle received an A.B. from Albion College and a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina. He has trained dozens of scientists; published more than 180 peer-reviewed research articles; and has been awarded 16 patents. He also received several awards, including three NIH Director’s awards.

For more information:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

NIH Intramural Research Program

Neuroscience @ NIH

NINDS Division of Intramural Research

Parkinson's Disease Information Page

Hope Through Research: Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's Disease: Challenges, Progress, and Promise


NINDS is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit