Fox Chase Cancer Center's Alfred Knudson Jr. named 2004 Kyoto Prize winner


Prize awarded to those who 'contributed significantly to mankind's betterment'

Cancer researcher Alfred G. Knudson Jr., M.D., Ph.D., (pronounced ka-nud'-son) of Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pa., has been named winner of a prestigious Kyoto Prize for 2004. The Kyoto Prize is considered among the world's leading awards for lifetime achievement and is given to those who have "contributed significantly to mankind's betterment." Knudson will receive a cash gift of about $450,000 (50 million yen), the 20 karat gold Kyoto Prize Medal and a diploma at the Kyoto Prize Ceremony in Kyoto, Japan on November 10, 2004.

The Inamori Foundation selects three Kyoto Prize ( laureates annually for significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual development of mankind in the fields of advanced technology, basic sciences, arts and philosophy.

Knudson will receive the basic sciences prize for his role in establishing the theory of tumor suppressor genes, which opened a new horizon in modern cancer genetics, and made a pivotal contribution to major subsequent research developments in understanding human cancer.

"Today, we are rushing ahead with incredible scientific and technological achievements, while inquiry into our spiritual nature lags deplorably," said Dr. Kazuo Inamori, founder and president of the Inamori Foundation. "It is my hope that the Kyoto Prize will encourage balanced development of both our scientific and our spiritual sides, and hence provide impetus toward the structuring of new philosophical paradigms."

This year's other Kyoto Prize laureates will be:

  • Dr. Alan Curtis Kay, a computer scientist and senior fellow at Hewlett-Packard Co., whose work at Stanford University and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1960s and '70s led the paradigm shift away from mainframe computing and opened the door for the personal computer revolution; and
  • Prof. Jurgen Habermas, a philosopher at the University of Frankfurt and permanent visiting professor at Northwestern University, whose communicative action theory and discourse ethics support a commitment to the elimination of discrimination and violence in human society, and the establishment of relationships of coexistence among all free and autonomous people.

Knudson has been a senior member of the scientific research staff at Fox Chase Cancer Center since 1976. A geneticist and physician, Knudson is internationally recognized for his "two-hit" theory of cancer causation, which explained the relationship between the hereditary and non-hereditary forms of a cancer and predicted the existence of tumor-suppressor genes that can suppress cancer cell growth. This now-confirmed theory has advanced understanding of errors in the genetic program that turn normal cells into cancer cells.

Knudson's powerful insights into the development of cancer hold implications for both treatment and prevention. Tumor-suppressor genes, in particular, are important targets for prevention research since they normally function to apply the brakes to cellular growth. This is a topic of Knudson's current research.

Defects in tumor-suppressor genes permit abnormal, cancerous growth, so devising ways to remedy such flaws or replace the gene's missing product through medication are of interest to researchers.

The Inamori Foundation was established in 1984 by Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera Corporation. The Kyoto Prizes were founded in 1985 in line with Inamori's belief that "man has no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of society, and that mankind's future can be assured only when there is a balance between our scientific progress and our spiritual depth." It is characteristic of the Kyoto Prizes that they are presented to individuals or groups in appreciation not only of their outstanding achievements but also of the excellence of the personal characteristics on which they have built their contributions to mankind. The laureates are selected through a strict and fair process considering candidates recommended from around the world.

As of January 2004, the Kyoto Prize has been awarded to 63 laureates from 12 nations--ranging from scientists, engineers and researchers to architects, sculptors and film directors. The United States has produced the most recipients with 27 laureates, followed by the United Kingdom (nine), France (eight) and Japan (seven).

More About Alfred Knudson

Knudson was born in Los Angeles in 1922. He received his B.S. from California Institute of Technology in 1944, his M.D. from Columbia University in 1947 and his Ph.D. from California Institute of Technology in 1956. He held a Guggenheim fellowship from 1953 to 1954.

Knudson came to Fox Chase Cancer Center in 1976 after serving as a member of its scientific advisory committee for seven years. Knudson was named a Fox Chase Distinguished Scientist and senior advisor to the Fox Chase president in 1992. Previously, Knudson served as director of Fox Chase's Institute for Cancer Research from 1976 until 1982, Center president from 1980 to 1982 and scientific director from 1982 to 1983.

Before coming to Fox Chase, Knudson was dean of the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and researcher at the M. D. Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston, Texas, where he specialized in pediatrics and biology. Prior to that, Knudson served as associate dean for basic sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 1966 to 1969.

In 1995, Knudson was appointed as special advisor to Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute. While continuing his work at Fox Chase, Knudson also worked closely with Joseph Fraumeni in the NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. Knudson served as acting director of its new human genetics program until September 1999, when he returned to Fox Chase full-time.

Among Knudson's many professional distinctions, he received the 1998 Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research, one of seven Lasker Awards presented that year. Considered "America's Nobels," Lasker Awards rank among the highest recognition for careers of distinguished work because of the extremely rigorous process of nomination and selection conducted by a jury of the world's top scientists.

In 1999, Knudson received the international John Scott Award from the City of Philadelphia. In addition, Knudson has received the 1988 Charles S. Mott Prize of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation; Canada's 1997 Gairdner Foundation International Award; Switzerland's 1995 Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Foundation Award; the 1996 Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Award; and the American Cancer Society's 1989 Medal of Honor.

Knudson is married to Anna T. Meadows, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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