Three US university professors who conducted outstanding cancer research were awarded the Dan David Prize and will share the $1 million that comes with it.
The Dan David Foundation, headquartered at Tel Aviv University, awarded the prize on Wednesday to 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, for their separate work on personalized medicine, genetics and the genomics of cancer.
King, a frequent visitor to Israel, has for years collaborated with Israeli researchers, especially with medical geneticist Prof. Ephrat Levy-Lahad and Prof. Karen Avraham at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. King was responsible for the seminal finding that mutations in the BRCA 1 gene predisposes women to breast and ovarian cancer. Her work has changed the understanding of hereditary cancer.
King is also renowned for two other major accomplishments: demonstrating that humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical, and applying genomic sequencing to identify victims of human-rights abuses in Argentina’s “dirty war” during the country’s 1976 to 1983 dictatorship.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment, King said on Thursday: “The prize is nominally to me, but really for human genetics in Israel. Most of the work for which I’m being recognized was done with Israeli friends.”
Vogelstein developed and applied methodologies for analyzing thousands of genes and whole genomes, enabling the comprehensive characterization of the genomic landscape of various types of cancers. His studies paved the way for early diagnosis, precise characterization and tailoring of individualized therapy of cancer. Among his studies was one on familial colorectal cancer among Ashkenazim.
Croce pioneered the discovery of genes responsible for a number of leukemias and lymphomas, and identified the role of major oncogenes as drivers of cancer development, progression and resistance to therapy. His numerous findings enable precise cancer diagnosis, individualized therapy and the development of novel, rationally designed anti-cancer drugs.
According to Ariel David, a member of the Dan David Prize’s board and a director of the Dan David Foundation, “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 is named after the late Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist who aimed to reward those who make a lasting impact on society and help young students and entrepreneurs become scholars and leaders.