Recently, three American University professors distinguished themselves for their exceptional study on cancer; they were on the occasion awarded the Dan David Prize and will share the monetary value of $1 million.
The three recipients, Prof. Mary-Claire King of the University of Washington, Prof. Bert Vogelstein of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Prof. Carlo Croce of Ohio State University were awarded the price by the Tel Aviv University-based Dan David Foundation for their separate studies carried out on personalised medicine, genetics and the genomics of cancer.
For a good number of years Prof. King who regularly visits Israel has been working in alliance with Israeli scientists, and in particular with Prof. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, a medical geneticist, as well as Prof. Karen Avraham at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Centre. King is linked with the seminal discovery that mutations in the BRCA 1 gene makes women susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. Thus with her work we now have a different understanding of hereditary cancer.
She has also become well known for two other very important achievements which are strongly indicative of the fact that “humans and chimpanzees share genetic identity up to as much as 99%”. This in turn led to the successful application of genomic sequencing in helping to recognise victims of human-rights abuses in Argentina during that country’s “dirty war” in a dictatorship spanning 1976 to 1983.
“The prize is nominally to me, but really for human genetics in Israel. Most of the work for which I’m being recognised was done with Israeli friends,” King said recently to The Jerusalem Post when asked to comment on the accomplishment.
On his part, Vogelstein brought to light and put to use the methodologies for analysing thousands of genes and whole genomes, making possible the complete classification of the genomic landscape of various types of cancers. His research efforts have enabled early diagnosis, accurate description and tailoring of individualised treatment of cancer. An important research carried out on familial colorectal cancer among Ashkenazim was also a part of his works.
Croce broke new grounds leading to the unearthing of genes that give rise to a number of leukemias and lymphomas, and identified the part played by very important oncogenes as causes of cancer growth, progression as well as resistance to treatment. Many of his discoveries help in accurate diagnosis of cancer, individualised treatment approach and the development of new, realistically evolved medicines for treating cancer.
In a remark, Ariel David, a member of the board of the Dan David Prize and a director of the Dan David Foundation said, “We live at a time in which the place of science and the pursuit of knowledge are being questioned, while new discoveries in medicine and genetics are making new inroads in the fight against once incurable diseases, but also posing fresh ethical dilemmas over how far we should go in our quest to protect and prolong human life.”
The prize was instituted in honour of the late Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist who looked forward to rewarding those who make enduring impact on society, as well as enabling young students and entrepreneurs in the direction of scholarship and leadership skills.