Introductory Comments by Dr. Clyde F. Barker
University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA.
Bert Vogelstein’s research is aimed at defining the molecular basis of cancer. In 1989 he showed that p53 is a tumor suppressor gene. He found that p53 which normally puts the brakes on cell growth is mutated in cancerous cells of the colon. Subsequently, he showed that p53 is mutated in many other types of cancer. This and other elucidation of the of genetic mutations which choreograph the ominous progression from normal to malignant cells has revolutionized our understanding of cancer.
Bert Vogelstein was born in Baltimore where he had his early education. Candidacy for the John Scott Award is enhanced by a Philadelphia connection. Dr. Vogelstein is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in mathematics and briefly considered a career in this field before entering medical school at Johns Hopkins. After internship and residency, in pediatrics at Hopkins, he spent two years training in molecular biology as a research associate at the National Cancer Institute before returning to Hopkins where he is now Professor of Oncology and Professor of Pathology with a joint appointment in Molecular Biology and Genetics. He is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Since returning to Hopkins in 1978, he has published more than 300 original research papers (not including chapters and books). This body of work has made him the individual most cited in the world’s literature by other scientists.
Dr. Vogelstein is a member of the major specialty societies in the multiple fields of his interests: genetics, microbiology, cancer research and cell biology and has also been elected to membership in our country’s most distinguished honorary scientific associations: The American Association of Physicians, the American Association of Arts and Science, the Institute of Medicine, The American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Vogelstein serves on the editorial boards of 10 important journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, Cancer Cell, and Science. He has chaired the Board of Scientific Counselors of the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute.
His list of honors beginning in 1969 with the University of Pennsylvania’s award for the outstanding undergraduate student in Semitic languages and literature through today’s John Scott Award which is number 69 on the list. as the cliché goes are truly too numerous to mention. But I’ll mention a few anyway. A Merit Award of the NIH, the Farber Award of the American Academy of Neurology for brain tumor research, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor, the Lounsberg Award of the National Academy of Sciences, the Knudson Award of the National Cancer Institute.
I could go on, but in Dr. Vogelstein’s case, the professional superlatives have become so numerous that their recitation could become almost tedious. Therefore, I hope that he and his wife will forgive me for introducing a bit of levity. One is always pleased with the somewhat unusual discovery that someone highly accomplished in a serious professional field also has other dimensions. Dr. Vogelstein is multidimensional, as they say “in spades.” My first clue to this was an unusual award listed in his c.v. The Rolex Award for an Intercollegiate tennis player for accomplishment outside the tennis world. Following this lead, I discovered the following by consulting the 1970 Penn Yearbook, the internet and several of his former and current colleagues. As an undergraduate at Penn, Bert Vogelstein played varsity tennis and squash as well as light weight football. He still plays tennis and racket ball and sponsors annual basketball and tennis tournaments for the post doctoral fellows in the laboratory.
Another important hobby is the rock band he directs which performs regularly around Hopkins and Baltimore night spots. Most of the musicians in the band are members of the Vogelstein laboratory, recruited either from the faculty or his 16 postdoctoral fellows. Bert Vogelstein plays the keyboard. The name of the band (appropriate for a geneticist) is the Wild Type.
By all accounts, Dr. Vogelstein is a person who in spite of all of his accomplishments refuses to take himself seriously. His internet homepage has a picture of him playing the keyboard and the music can be downloaded. Also on the internet his image is on a science trading card (these cards are similar to baseball cards). Other cards exist for scientists such as Einstein, Freud, Pavlov, Pasteur, Watson and Crick and two previous John Scott Awardees, Marie Curie and Thomas Edison.
Dr. Vogelstein’s informality and good natured approachability and his rapport with his trainees are legend around Hopkins. These qualities undoubtedly contribute to his success in attracting post doctoral fellows and the success they subsequently achieve as independent scientists. He considers his record as a mentor to be his most important success.
I believe it is most appropriate that this great scientist has been selected for the 2003 John Scott Award.