Alfred G. Knudson Jr., receives American Association for Cancer Research Lifetime Acheivement Award

04/06/05

PHILADELPHIA -- Alfred G. Knudson Jr., M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized geneticist and physician, will receive the American Association for Cancer Research Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research.

Knudson, a Fox Chase Cancer Center Distinguished Scientist and senior advisor to the president, is honored for his groundbreaking development of the "two-hit" model, which subsequently launched the discovery and study of tumor suppressor genes. This pioneering, statistically based model explained both the hereditary and sporadic forms of retinoblastoma, and was followed by similar models for neuroblastoma and Wilms' tumor. The fact that the model was first proposed almost 15 years before molecular technologies were able to experimentally test and confirm it speaks not only to the novel aspects of this research, but also to the visionary nature of the work.

"Dr. Knudson's two-hit theory has served as an illuminating paradigm, guiding the investigations of countless tumor geneticists and molecular biologists," said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the AACR. "His fundamental contributions have profoundly influenced the course of cancer research. We are honored to recognize his exemplary contributions to the field of cancer research and genetics."

The AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research was established and first presented in 2004 to acknowledge an individual who has made significant, fundamental contributions to cancer research, either through a single scientific discovery or a body of work. Those contributions, whether they have been in research, leadership, or mentorship, must have had a lasting impact on the cancer field and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer. The award joins the Landon Prizes, Pezcoller Foundation Award and numerous other scientific honors conferred annually by the AACR to recognize world-class accomplishments in basic research, clinical care, therapeutics and prevention.

Knudson's two-hit theory of cancer causation explained the relationship between the hereditary and non-hereditary forms of cancer and predicted the existence of genes that suppress cancer cell growth. The theory evolved after years of observing cases of childhood cancer, particularly retinoblastoma, a type of pediatric eye cancer. While a child may have inherited a predisposition to the disease through a genetic mutation from a parent, Knudsen hypothesized that this hereditary form would constitute only the first "hit" leading to the cancer. The disease would develop only after a second mutation -- or second "hit" -- occurred, either spontaneously or otherwise. Non-hereditary cases would also involve two hits, both being somatic. All retinoblastomas would be the result of two genetic events.

The theory advanced the understanding of genetic miscues that turn normal cells into cancer cells. Tumor-suppressor genes, in particular, are important targets for prevention research, since they normally function to apply the brakes to cellular growth.

Knudson received his B.S. from the California Institute of Technology, his M.D. from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. He has served on the faculty of several leading research institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and the City of Hope Medical Center. Knudson has been at Fox Chase Cancer Center since 1976, where he served as director of its Institute for Cancer Research until 1982. He also served as president of the cancer center from 1980 to 1982 and was named Distinguished Scientist and senior advisor to the president in 1992.

Among his numerous awards and honors, Knudson received the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, the Mott Prize of the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation, and the 2004 Kyoto Prize for Basic Science. He will receive the Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to DiscoverTM Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research in October 2005.

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