NCI Grantees Receive Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences

Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize LogoThe Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences recognizes “excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” The inaugural set of prizes, awarded in February 2013 by a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to advancing breakthrough research, are backed by well-known personalities such as Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of a personal genomics and biotech company 23andMe; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg  and his wife, Priscilla Chan; Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner; and  Art Levinson, chairman of Apple and Genentech.

The 11 recipients will each receive $3 million for their outstanding work in the field of science; eight of them have received NCI grants to further their research:

  • David Botstein Ph.D., director of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and the Anthony B. Evnin professor of genomics at Princeton University, was recognized for linkage mapping of Mendelian disease in humans using variations in a DNA sequence.

  • Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, was awarded for his discovery of PI 3-Kinase and its role in cancer metabolism. His research discovered that human cancers frequently have mutations in PI3K and he has worked to identify new treatments for cancers that result from defects in this pathway.
  • Titia de Lange Ph.D., head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics, and director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at the Rockefeller University, was awarded for her research on telomeres, illuminating how they protect chromosome ends and their role in genome instability in cancer. De Lange identified a protein complex within telomeres, called shelterin, and has shown how this complex hides the chromosome end from cellular machinery that detects and repairs broken DNA tips.
  • Napoleone Ferrara, M.D., distinguished professor of pathology and senior deputy director for basic sciences at Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, was awarded for his discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.  Ferrara’s research has helped identifying the role of the human VEGF gene in promoting angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels that can feed tumor growth—and subsequent development of two major drugs: bevacizumab (Avastin) which is used to treat multiple forms of cancer and ranibizumab (Lucentis), which treats age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
  • Eric Lander, Ph.D., founding director and core member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, was awarded for the discovery of general principles for identifying human disease genes, and enabling their application to medicine through the creation and analysis of genetic, physical and sequence maps of the human genome. Lander was one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project.
  • Charles L. Sawyers, M.D., chair of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was awarded for his work in cancer genes and targeted therapy.  Sawyers research focuses on cancer drug resistance, which led him to the discovery of the drug enzalutamide (Xtandi), used for advanced prostate cancer.
  • Bert Vogelstein, M.D., co-director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, was awarded for his work in cancer genomics and tumor suppressor genes. Vogelstein’s identification of p53 gene mutations in colon cancer was groundbreaking and resulted in further research linking this gene mutation to other cancers. It is now known as the most common gene mutation in all cancers.
  • Robert A. Weinberg, Ph.D., professor for cancer research at MIT and director of the MIT/Ludwig Center for Molecular Oncology, was awarded for his characterization of human cancer genes. Weinberg is known for his discoveries of the first human oncogene—a gene that causes normal cells to form tumors—and the first tumor suppressor gene.

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