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Albert Lasker
Basic Medical Research Award

Award Description

J. Michael Bishop
Raymond Erikson
Robert Gallo
Hidesaburo Hanafusa
Harold Varmus
 
J. Michael Bishop
For his elegant elucidation of the nature of oncogenes, and his contribution to the discovery that these genes are present in normal cells.

In a long and particularly close scientific collaboration with Dr. Varmus, Dr. Bishop showed beyond question that a DNA sequence in the avian sarcoma virus was virtually identical to a sequence in normal human DNA. Moreover, they show that this sequence occurred in the genome of all vertebrates with only subtle alterations reflecting the gene's great age and the still mysterious, but vital identical role it must play.

Dr. Bishop extended his studies by showing that this was only the first of a number of distinct oncogenes expressed at inappropriate levels in neoplastic tissues. He also showed how retroviruses such as the avian sarcoma virus reproduce and integrate with the genetic material of the infected cell.

To Dr. Bishop, whose creative and technically unprecedented studies formed the foundation for a new comprehension of the molecular genetics of cancer, growth, cell differentiation, and of the genetic history of the human race, this 1982 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.
 
Raymond Erikson
For his contributions to the first identification and functional characterization of the protein products of oncogenes, thus providing a clearer understanding of cell growth and regulation.

After it was established that cancer-causing retroviruses carry oncogenes, the first important step was to define the protein product coded by each of them. Dr. Erikson isolated the first one—the enzyme coded by the avian sarcoma virus oncogene. The protein product of this oncogene, which has a unique pattern of enzyme, drastically alters the biochemistry of the cell and diminishes its capacity for responding to regulatory signals from hormones. Of all the oncogenes now known, a substantial number seem to act in a similar way.

To Dr. Erikson, first to discover the protein product of an oncogene and to provide a model for other investigators to employ in their search for the products of other oncogenes—a pioneer within a field of pioneers—this 1982 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.
 
Robert Gallo
For his pioneering studies that led to the discovery of the first human RNA tumor virus and its association with certain leukemias and lymphomas.

Dr. Gallo's early discovery of a T-cell growth factor which enables cells to be grown more readily in the laboratory has earned him the appreciation of countless other scientists. His years of persistent and single-minded research in virology have lead to broader and brighter prospects for cancer research, the development of a human cancer vaccine and other approaches to the prevention of human cancers.

Following his isolation of the T-cell growth factor, which stimulates T lymphocytes to divide and proliferate to fight an infection, Dr. Gallo undertook detailed research on T-cell leukemias—leading ultimately to a virus which activated inappropriately the gene coding for T-cell growth factor. T-cell growth factor is produced and T cells multiply wildly, producing more growth factor. This cycle leads to a virulent T-cell leukemia, rare in the U.S. but common in Japan and in the Caribbean.

Dr. Gallo's clinical and epidemiological studies have shown that the virus can infect some people without causing harm, but leads to leukemia in a susceptible few. Recent discoveries suggest that human T-cell leukemia virus or another similar to it may be involved in other types of disease.

To Dr. Gallo, for his tenacious and thorough investigations leading to the discovery of the human T-cell leukemia virus and carrying resounding implications that will reshape approaches to cancer much sooner than scientists had expected or humanity had hoped, this 1982 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.
 
Hidesaburo Hanafusa
For demonstrating how RNA tumor viruses cause cancer, and elucidating their role in combining, rescuing and maintaining oncogenes in the viral genome.

Dr. Hanafusa's studies and those of others discovered that when retroviruses reproduce, they give rise to a DNA copy of themselves known as a "provirus" with identical gene-activating "long terminal repeat" sequences at either end. These flanking sequences splice themselves into cellular DNA, making the provirus a part of the cellular blueprint.

Dr. Hanafusa then showed that retroviruses containing only a part of the src gene could produce tumors in animals. From these tumors he isolated virus which now contained the complete src gene sequence. The retrovirus, by means of its recombinant ability, had picked up the missing part of the src gene of the cells and thus became tumorigenic.

To Dr. Hanafusa, whose studies combining scientific imagination with meticulous laboratory techniques showed the mechanism by which retroviruses take oncogenes from normal cells and thus acquire the ability to cause malignant tumors, this 1982 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.
 
Harold Varmus
For his creative and successful pursuit toward the identification of the cellular oncogenes and their control.

Dr. Varmus initiated studies showing that in normal animal cells, there resides a gene closely related to a gene carried by acutely transforming retrovirus, and that this ordinarily inactive gene, preserved throughout evolution, must play a crucial role in normal growth and development—although when inappropriately expressed or mutated, it may cause malignancy.

In close scientific collaboration, Dr. Varmus and Dr. J. Michael Bishop showed unequivocally that a genetic sequence in the avian sarcoma virus was homologous to a sequence in the normal DNA of vertebrates, including man. Whereas the cellular version of the gene is expressed at low levels in normal tissues, the viral version of the gene is efficiently expressed in virus-induced tumors and cells transformed by the virus.

By comparing the sequence now known at the "src" gene, as it occurs in the DNA of various species, Dr. Varmus and Dr. Bishop showed that the gene is conserved from species to species with other minor changes, indicating that its role must be important.

For his stunning discovery of the homology between acute transforming genes including the src gene, and its comparable sequence in normal cellular DNA which opened a new era of increasingly precise comprehension of cell differentiation, growth and development of living creatures, and of the molecular genetics of cancer, this 1982 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award is given.