Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., receives Pezcoller-AACR International Award for Cancer Research

04/07/05

BIDMC investigator honored for discovery of cancer cell pathway

BOSTON Lewis C. Cantley, Ph.D., chief of the Division of Signal Transduction at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, has been named the recipient of the eighth annual Pezcoller Foundation-American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) International Award for Cancer Research.

Established in 1997, the prestigious award is presented annually to honor a scientist who has made a major scientific discovery in either basic or translational cancer research. This year's prize recognizes Cantley for his leadership in the field of signal transduction, most notably the discovery of a key cancer cell pathway known as phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K).

Cantley will deliver the award lecture, "The Role of PI3K in Cancer," at the AACR's 96th Annual Meeting in Anaheim California later this month and will be honored at an award ceremony at the Pezcoller Foundation in Trento, Italy this spring.

"Lew Cantley's groundbreaking work has had a tremendous impact in the field of cancer research," says BIDMC Chief Academic Officer Jeffrey S. Flier, MD. "His lab's discovery of the PI3K pathway has helped to explain how normal cells turn into cancerous cells, and in so doing, has provided the scientific community with an extremely important target in terms of future cancer treatments."

A summa cum laude graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1971, Cantley obtained a doctorate in Biophysical Chemistry from Cornell University in 1975 and did postdoctoral research at Harvard University from 1975 to 1978 before joining Harvard's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as an Assistant Professor. After holding positions at Tufts University School of Medicine, Cantley joined the faculty of BIDMC in 1992.

It was in the mid-1980s that Cantley began to focus his research on the biochemical mechanisms of cellular responses to hormones and growth factors, which led to his laboratory's discovery of the PI3K signaling pathway. His subsequent investigations have focused on characterizing the mechanism by which PI3K is activated by growth factors and oncogenes and elucidating pathways downstream of PI3K, including the AKT/PKB signaling pathway.

In the course of his work, Cantley's laboratory developed an oriented peptide library approach that has revealed the structural basis for regulated interaction of signaling proteins and has also led to a bioinformatics approach for predicting signaling pathways on the basis of gene sequences. He is currently exploring the role of PI3K in cancer and diabetes through the development of mouse models in which genes for enzymes in this pathway are altered.

Says Cantley, "I'm honored to have received this award, indicating an international recognition of the importance of PI 3-kinase in human cancer. Over the past 20 years our understanding of PI 3-kinase has progressed from an unusual lipid kinase activity that we found associated with oncogene products, to the central player in a network that controls the growth and survival of cancer cells.

There is now much optimism that the elucidation of this network is revealing effective targets for pharmaceutical intervention in a wide variety of human cancers."

A recipient of numerous awards, Cantley was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. He serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Cell Biology and is a member of the editorial board at Cell.

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