Dan David Prize awarded to two leading American cancer researchers

University of Texas and Yale University researchers share $1 million prize



Dr. John Mendelsohn (middle left), the President of University of Texas MD Andersonís Cancer Center, and Dr. Joseph Schlessinger (middle right), the program director of the Signal Transduction and Drug...
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Tel Aviv, Israel- "We will never eliminate cancer," leading U.S. cancer researcher Dr. John Mendelsohn told an audience of diplomats and dignitaries in Tel Aviv. "But are we going to change its course? Yes. We're doing it already."

Honored for innovative cancer treatment research earlier in the week, Dr. Mendelsohn was co-awarded the prestigious $1 million Dan David Prize alongside cancer researcher Dr. Joseph Schlessinger at Tel Aviv University.

A joint international enterprise endowed by the Dan David Foundation and headquartered at Tel Aviv University, the prize recognizes and encourages innovative and interdisciplinary research that cuts across traditional boundaries and paradigms. It aims to foster universal values of excellence, creativity, justice, democracy and progress and to promote the scientific, technological and humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world.

Now in its fifth year, the prize covers three time dimensions--Past, Present and Future--with each representing realms of human achievement. Mendelsohn, the President of University of Texas MD Anderson's Cancer Center and Schlessinger, the program director of the Signal Transduction and Drug Discovery Research Program at Yale Cancer Center, were recognized in the "future" category.

World-renowned cellist YoYo Ma was honored in the Past dimension category and a group of four journalists were honored for Present dimension endeavors. Present at the ceremony was Israel's president Moshe Katzav, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and a corps of diplomats and celebrities.

"I thank Dan David for bringing together people from different backgrounds and specialties that share in common a passion for making the world a better place," Dr. Mendelsohn told audience members in his acceptance speech.

A cancer researcher since the late 60's, Mendelsohn is considered a pioneer in his field. He has spent three decades applying molecular biology towards cancer treatment in clinical and laboratory trials. Going on a hypothesis of blocking specific growth factor receptors on cells in order to limit and stop proliferation of cancer cell growth, Mendelsohn's research has led to effective drug and treatment therapies.

Clinical research trials have shown that therapy combined with Mendelsohn's antireceptor antibody and chemotherapy or radiation is effective in treating patients with several forms of cancer. In 2004 and again in 2006, the FDA approved Erbitux T, formulated on the basis of Mendelsohn's research and trials, for treatment of advanced colorectal cancer.

Joseph Schlessinger, PhD, has been the William H. Prusoff Professor and Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine since 2001. In late January, a new drug based on Schlessinger's research was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for advanced kidney cancer and a rare type of stomach cancer.

A leading figure in the field of signal transduction and cell surface receptors, Schlessinger changed the way the scientific world thinks about how cells communicate through sometimes-aberrant expression. Schlessinger also provided the conceptual foundation for the rational and sophisticated development of a new family of cancer drugs including Sutent, a drug developed by his team at Sugen for the treatment of gastrointestinal tumors and renal cancers.

The Dan David awards are named for Romania native Dan David who made his fortune inventing, patenting, developing and marketing photographic technologies, including automatic photo booths. David spoke at the ceremony, praising both researchers for their contributions to the field of cancer and noting that 2002 Future Dimension recipient Professor John Sulston received the Nobel Prize for Medicine six months after receiving the prize.

Each year the Dan David Prize International Board chooses one field within each time dimension. Following a review by Independent Review Committees comprised of renowned scholars and professionals, the International Board then chooses the laureates for each field. The past refers to fields that expand knowledge of former times. The present recognizes achievements that shape and enrich society today. The future focuses on breakthroughs that hold great promise for improvement of our world.

Three prizes of $1 million each are granted annually in the fields chosen for the three time dimensions. The prize is unique in that its laureates donate 10 percent of their prize money to graduate students in their respective fields, thereby contributing to the community and fostering a new generation of scholars.

Visibly pleased with the honor, Schlessinger shook his ceremonial plaque overhead after shaking David's hand. "I am very thrilled to receive the 2006 Dan David Prize," said Schlessinger. "We scientists are always happy when we receive recognition for our work. I am planning to donate a portion of the prize for academic activities in the Department of Pharmacology."

Mendelsohn admitted he'll put some of the prize money towards funding educations for his six grandchildren and will also donate a percentage towards biomedicine student scholarships.

On being honored for a lifetime of research, he said it's "a privilege to have worked on a research project to help patients, some of them friends." Schlessinger concurred. "I always thought that my work is to have the potential for an opportunity to do good for people and take advantage of that. And this is what happened."

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By Stephanie L. Freid


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