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Grantees Win GM Cancer Awards

All five winners of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation's three annual prizes for 2001 are NIH grantees, and all were invited to give talks at a scientific conference on "Mechanisms of Metastasis" held June 6 in Masur Auditorium. The prizes amount to $750,000.

This year's Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize — honoring the most outstanding recent basic science contribution to cancer research — was awarded to Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California, San Francisco, for her pioneering research on cellular structures called telomeres. NIGMS has supported Blackburn's work since 1978. She is professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF.

Working with a single-celled pond water creature called Tetrahymena in the early 1980s, Blackburn and her then-graduate student Carol Greider discovered an enzyme called "telomerase." This enzyme, they found, rebuilds the chromosomal telomeres of Tetrahymena, and also of animal and human cells. Telomeres, structures reminiscent of shoelace caps ("aglets") at the tips of chromosomes, are involved in a number of basic cellular processes and have intriguing associations with cellular aging and cancer. Blackburn's studies have led scientists to believe that telomerase, which is active in normal human cells for only a short time after birth, becomes reactivated in cancer cells, and promotes cancer cell growth.

Winning the Charles F. Kettering Prize, which recognizes outstanding contributions to cancer diagnosis or treatment, were Dr. David Kuhl of the University of Michigan and Dr. Michael Phelps of UCLA, who were involved in the development of positron emission tomography (PET).

Kuhl, professor of radiology, chief of the division of nuclear medicine, and director of the PET Center at the University of Michigan, was an early developer of cross-sectional scanning machines to examine patients' brains. Phelps, now Norton Simon professor and chair of the department of molecular and medical pharmacology at UCLA School of Medicine, and his colleagues developed the first PET scanner at Washington University in St. Louis more than 25 years ago.

Kuhl has had grants from NCRR and NINDS in PET scanning, and from NCI in cancer research training in nuclear medicine. Phelps has had support from NIMH and NHLBI in PET scanning studies.

Sharing the Charles S. Mott Prize, which honors the most outstanding recent contribution to discovery of the cause or ultimate prevention of human cancer, were Drs. Frank Speizer and Walter Willett, both of Harvard University. They were recognized for creating and sustaining the Nurses Health Study and two companion studies, the data from which have generated important epidemiological findings in cancer research. They have examined the relationship between dietary fat and breast cancer and the roles of oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy in cancer and risk factors for colorectal cancer.

Speizer is Edward H. Kass professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, codirector of the Channing Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and professor of environmental science at Harvard School of Public Health. He has enjoyed grant support from NCRR, NIEHS, NHLBI and NCI. Willett, who is Fredrick John Stare professor of epidemiology and nutrition, chair of the department of nutrition at HSPH and professor of medicine at HMS, has been funded by NCI, NEI, NHLBI and NIDDK.

The GM Cancer Research Foundation, established in 1978, has so far awarded more than $11 million to 92 scientists in an effort to focus worldwide attention on cancer research.

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