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Stephen Quake Wins 2013 Nakasone Award

Andrew S. Wiecek

The Stanford bioengineer will be recognized with a gold medal and a $10,000 research grant for his "prolific inventions that have advanced biological measurement techniques."

Stephen Quake, professor of bioengineering and of applied physics at Stanford University and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has won the 2013 Nakasone Award for his discoveries and inventions that have advanced biological measurement techniques.

Stephen Quake has won the 2013 Nakasone Award for his discoveries and inventions that have advanced biological measurement techniques. Source: Norbert von der Groeben, Stanford University

Since the 1990s, Quake has been using his background in physics to develop microfluidic and high-throughput sequencing techniques that increase the precision with which scientists can measure biological phenomena. His research has advanced basic research fields including single-cell analysis, genomics, and structural biology as well as clinical diagnostics and treatments.

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Applying microfluidic devices to biology applications, Quake has improved a wide variety of biology techniques including cell sorting (1), digital PCR for metagenomics (2), and protein crystallization for structure determination (3). In the process, he has advanced the field of microfluidics itself by applying new designs and principles to the fabrication of these devices.

To improve high-throughput DNA sequencing, Quake pioneered single-molecule techniques to read individual base-pairs. In 2003, his team published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that demonstrated that single-molecule sequencing was indeed possible (2). That same year, Quake went on to co-found Helicos BioSciences Corporation in Cambridge, MA, to commercialize the single-molecule sequencing techniques developed in his lab. Then, in a paper published in Nature BioTechnology in 2009 (3), Quake reported that he had sequenced his own genome for only $50,000, which was considered very low-cost at the time.

This past summer, Quake and colleagues published two papers in reproductive biology. In the first paper, that was published in Nature (3), his team reported on a technique to non-invasively sequence the prenatal genome, which could be used to diagnose genetic disease without posing a health risk to the fetus. In the second paper, that was published in Cell (4), Quake and colleagues measured the recombination activity and mutation rates in single human sperm cells for the first time by using microfluidics to isolate, genotype, and sequence those cells.

The Nakasone Award, which is presented by the Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO), includes a $10,000 research grant and a gold medal. In addition, Quake will give the HFSPO Nakasone Lecture at the annual HFSPO meeting that will be held in Strasbourg, France, in July 2013.


1. Fu, A. Y., C. Spence, A. Scherer, F. H. Arnold, and S. R. Quake. 1999. A microfabricated fluorescence-activated cell sorter. Nature Biotechnology 17(11):1109-1111.

2.Ottesen, E. A., J. W. Hong, S. R. Quake, and J. R. Leadbetter. 2006. Microfluidic digital PCR enables multigene analysis of individual environmental bacteria. Science 314(5804):1464-1467.

3. Hansen, C. L., S. Classen, J. M. Berger, and S. R. Quake. 2006. A microfluidic device for kinetic optimization of protein crystallization and in situ structure determination. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 128(10):3142-3143.

2. Braslavsky, I., B. Hebert, E. Kartalov, and S. R. Quake. 2003. Sequence information can be obtained from single DNA molecules. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100(7):3960-3964.

3. Fan, H. C., W. Gu, J. Wang, Y. J. Blumenfeld, Y. Y. El-Sayed, and S. R. Quake. 2012. Non-invasive prenatal measurement of the fetal genome. Nature advance online publication(July).

4. Wang, J., H. C. Fan, B. Behr, and S. R. Quake. 2012. Genome-wide Single-Cell analysis of recombination activity and de novo mutation rates in human sperm. Cell 150(2):402-412.