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Albert Lasker Award
for Special Achievement in Medical Science

Award Description

Victor McKusick
For a lifetime career as founder of the discipline of clinical genetics.

It is rare in the complex world of modern medicine for one man to have essentially founded an entire branch of medicine. It is rarer still when that field comes to occupy such a central place in the mainstream of clinical medicine. Such is the case with Victor McKusick, universally recognized as the father of medical genetics, a preeminent teacher of teachers, and a great physician. As anyone who has ever seen McKusick with his patients knows, they idolize him.

As a young physician at Johns Hopkins in the late 1940s, Victor McKusick was training in cardiology, even though his true intellectual love was genetics. During his young professional life, scientists at Rockefeller proved (through studies of pneumococci) that DNA is the substance that transmits hereditary information from cell to cell. Not long after that, James Watson and Francis Crick reported that DNA is a double helix, giving the molecules of heredity a structural shape. And, of course, there was the well-known story of Gregor Mendel and his peas. But there was no such thing as medical genetics. McKusick helped invent it.

While developing "spectral phonocardiography," an arcane predecessor to contemporary methods of assessing the status of the heart, McKusick studiously explored the patterns of inheritance among patients with connective tissue disorders and then promptly wrote a definitive book on the subject. That was in 1956. (He also contributed a text, Cardiovascular Sound in Health and Disease, to cardiology along the way.)