Kelly, Langer, Sherr and Stillman Win 2004 GM Awards

 Abstract

Four world-renowned scientists have been recognized by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (GMCRF) for their seminal contributions to cancer research.

The award recipients are:

-- Dr. Thomas Kelly, director, Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York

-- Robert Langer, professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass.

-- Dr. Charles J. Sherr, Herrick Foundation co-chair of Genetics and Tumor Cell Biology at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

-- Bruce Stillman, president and CEO, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

GMCRF has previously awarded nearly $14 million to 105 scientists in an effort to focus worldwide scientific and public attention on cancer research. Twelve previous winners have subsequently won Nobel Prizes.

GM has made cancer research a key philanthropic priority, and this year marks the 26th anniversary of the GMCRF Awards. GM has given more than $50 million to the cause, and is committed to helping eradicate cancer and supporting cancer research until the battle is won.

Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize

Kelly and Stillman have been awarded the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize for their major contributions to our understanding of the biochemistry and regulation of DNA replication. The Sloan Prize recognizes the most outstanding recent contribution in basic science related to cancer research.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Kelly was the first to establish cell-free systems for in vitro replication of DNA in extracts derived from human cells. The development of these systems made it possible to study the molecular machinery that duplicates the human genome.

"Cancer is a genetic disease, characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells, so if we understand the mechanisms that control DNA replication, we may be able to develop new drugs that target key aspects of the replication machinery," Kelly said. Studying DNA replication in both human cells and yeast extracts, Stillman made two significant discoveries. In the 1980s, he and Dr. Kelly discovered the protein machinery that enables chromosomes to be copied. In 1992, Stillman discovered a protein complex (the Origin of Recognition Complex, or ORC) that regulates the copying process.

"Understanding the process of DNA replication in normal cells has been important for us to understand what goes wrong in cancer cells," Stillman said. "We've learned so much about the process of chromosome duplication and how it integrates into the biochemical pathways that are defective in cancer cells."

Kelly and Stillman's discoveries have significant implications for cancer research. Kelly provided a first look into how DNA replication works in human cells and Stillman demonstrated that entire chromosomes need to be copied accurately and just once in the cell division process or abnormalities can occur in the number of genes copied, a characteristic of cancer cells.

A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Kelly received his M.D. and Ph.D. in Biophysics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

A native of Sydney, Australia, Stillman is a graduate of the University of Sydney and earned his doctorate from the John Curtain School of Medical Research at the Australian National University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society (London). Both Kelly and Stillman have received several awards for their work.

Charles F. Kettering Prize

Langer has been honored with the Charles F. Kettering Prize for pioneering the development of sustained-release drug delivery systems for the treatment of cancer. The Kettering Prize recognizes the most outstanding recent contribution to the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.

Langer's achievements have had a profound impact on the field of cancer research. When he began working in the field of cancer research in 1974, the scientific community at that time believed that only small molecules could pass through a plastic drug delivery system in a controlled manner.

However, Langer went on to develop polymer materials that allowed large molecules to pass through plastic membranes to inhibit angiogenesis, the process by which tumors recruit blood vessels. Blocking angiogenesis in the case of cancer is critical because during the development of the new blood vessels, tumor cells escape into the circulation and lodge in other organs. In addition, this discovery led to his work on biodegradable polymers that pharmaceutical companies later used for treating men with advanced prostate cancer. Langer's subsequent research on biodegradable polymers with Dr. Henry Brem of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine led to new treatments for patients with brain cancer.

"In a general sense, I think the significance of our discovery is that it opened up the field of controlled drug delivery systems, allowing for treatments with molecules of varying sizes that could be delivered over a broad range of time -- from days to months," Langer said. "Specific to cancer research, I think it helped in three areas: the angiogenesis field, the development of new treatments, and the introduction of local chemotherapies."

A graduate of Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and an Sc.D. in Chemical Engineering from MIT, Langer is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of several awards for his work.

Charles S. Mott Prize

Sherr was honored with the Charles S. Mott Prize for the discovery and characterization of key genes and proteins that control cell division and are frequently involved in the development of cancer. The Mott Prize honors the most recent outstanding contribution related to the cause or prevention of cancer.

Sherr has worked in the field of cancer research for more than 30 years and is a pioneer in understanding the complex biochemical pathways that cause tumors. In the 1990s, Sherr defined two major biochemical pathways that sense signals arising outside the cell and translate them into information that drives cell division.

The components of these pathways include cancer-causing genes (oncogenes, such as cyclin D and CDK4), and genes that prevent cancer (tumor-suppressor genes, such as ARF). According to Sherr, genetic alterations in these pathways occur frequently in most, if not all, forms of human cancer.

Sherr's work has had a significant impact on the field of cancer research. His discoveries provide a basis for the development of new and improved diagnostic and therapeutic tools for human cancers.

"Cancer is a genetic disease and is one of the major medical problems we face today," Sherr said. "If we can understand the genetic framework of cancer, then we can develop drugs that would cure this disease."

Sherr is a graduate of Oberlin College (Ohio) with a bachelor's degree in Biology. He earned both Ph.D. in Immunology and M.D. degrees from New York University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received many awards. Dr. Samuel A. Wells, Jr., president of the GMCRF, praised the award winners and cited their major contributions to combating this deadly disease. He noted that the laureates were chosen through a rigorous review process conducted by distinguished

international scientists who served on the Foundation's Selection Committees and Awards Assembly.

"Cancer research is crucial, because the effects of the disease are so far-reaching," said GMCRF Chairman Harry J. Pearce. Pearce, a cancer survivor, has indicated on many occasions that he credits cancer research with saving his life. "Over 10,600 GM employees, retirees and their family members were treated for cancer in just the past year alone."

"Through these awards, GM supports some of the world's most gifted scientists, who have made highly important discoveries leading to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer," Wells said. "Research is the basis for all cancer breakthroughs, and we must do everything we can to support and nurture that spirit of discovery."

The GMCRF Annual Scientific Conference, held at the National Institutes of Health on June 8 and 9, focused on "Genome Integrity and Cancer" and included lectures by the laureates describing their research. GM is presenting the prizes to the laureates during an awards ceremony at the U.S. Department of State on the evening of June 9.

About GMCRF

The GMCRF was founded in 1978 by former GM Chairman Roger Smith and Dr. Joseph G. Fortner, Attending Surgeon at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It was Smith's passion for eradicating cancer that led him to call on his friend, Dr. Fortner, to ask him to partner with GM to create "a Nobel Prize for cancer research -- something to encourage the importance of continued research and idea sharing to wipe out this disease." The GMCRF annually recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of basic scientists and clinical scientists in cancer research around the world. The first GMCRF prizes were awarded on May 2, 1979.

About General Motors

General Motors Corp. (NYSE:GM), the world's largest vehicle manufacturer, employs about 325,000 people globally. Founded in 1908, GM has been the global automotive sales leader since 1931. GM today has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 192 countries. In 2003, GM sold nearly 8.6 million cars and trucks, about 15 percent of the global vehicle market. GM's global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM and its products can be found on the company's corporate website at http://www.gm.com .

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Pages
585 - 592
doi
10.4161/cbt.3.7.1049
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Kelly, Langer, Sherr and Stillman Win 2004 GM Awards