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Fox Chase Cancer Center Pioneer in Cancer Research To Receive Sutow Award

PHILADELPHIA (April 26, 1999) -- Fox Chase Cancer Center is proud to announce Alfred G. Knudson, Jr., M.D., Ph.D. of Center City Philadelphia will be honored as the W.W. Sutow, M.D. Visiting Lecturer in Pediatric Oncology on Thursday, April 29 at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. His topic will be "Cancer in Children: Teacher of Cancer Genetics".

The W.W. Sutow Visiting Lecturer, presented by MD Anderson Cancer Center's Department of Pediatrics, honors the memory of a man whose work helped establish the discipline of pediatric oncology. In 1954, Dr. Sutow helped form what today is the Department of Pediatrics at M.D. Anderson. At a time when surgery and radiotherapy were the treatments of choice for children with cancer, Dr. Sutow was convinced chemotherapy could be an effective treatment against childhood solid tumors. He produced some of the most dramatic results ever achieved in pediatric oncology.

Though Dr. Sutow successfully fought to change established beliefs toward the treatment of childhood solid tumors, he lost one final battle in 1981 - his own battle with cancer. The W.W. Sutow Visiting Lecturer allows family, friends and professional associates to celebrate the life of a man who lived for others.

"I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Sutow," said Dr. Knudson, this year's Sutow Lecturer. "He was a widely admired scientist/clinician, and a fine human being. We all have learned from him."

A geneticist and physician, Dr. Knudson is internationally recognized for his "two-hit" theory of cancer causation, which explained the relationship between hereditary and non-hereditary forms of cancer and predicted the existence of genes that can suppress tumor cell growth. This now-confirmed theory has advanced understanding of errors in the genetic program that turns normal cells into cancer cells.

Knudson's "two-hit" hypothesis grew out of observations made while studying children with retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye. He noted differences among patients whose tumor was inherited and those who appeared to have no "susceptibility" to the disease.

"Most people assumed that retinoblastoma genes were inherited in a dominant fashion - that is, if you had the gene, you would get the cancer," Knudson said. Since some children who inherit the gene do not get the tumor, it is apparent that inheriting the mutation is not sufficient for tumor formation. The inherited gene is the "first hit," but another hit after conception produces a tumor. The same gene, known as RB1, is involved in children with the non-hereditary form, but these children sustain "two hits" after conception.

The "hits" can occur in many ways - from an environmental toxin, dietary factors, radiation, or the kind of random mutation that sometimes occurs during the intricate process of normal cell replication. Knudson proposed that retinoblastoma develops either because a key gene is lost or because it is inactivated and unable to function as it should.

Knudson, far ahead of his time (and ahead of his own hard data), hypothesized in the early 1970s that some genes' normal role in life is to behave as "tumor-suppressor" genes that keep cell division under healthy control. At first, the strength of his hypothesis rested on a complex mathematical model, but it was supported in 1976 when Knudson and others showed that some patients with retinoblastoma are missing a segment of chromosome 13. In 1986, other scientists applied the tools of molecular technology to clone the gene, RBI, so that its function as a tumor-suppressor could be studied in detail.

Knudson's initial studies were directed at relatively rare tumors. It is now apparent that his "two-hit" hypothesis explains the origin of most common forms of cancer and is one of the defining concepts behind all of modern cancer biology.

Knudson has been a senior member of the scientific research staff at Fox Chase Cancer Center since 1976. In honor of his contributions to biomedical science, Knudson has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He is also a 1998 recipient of the prestigious Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research. He was named a Fox Chase Distinguished Scientist and senior advisor to the institution's president in 1992.

Dr. Knudson has been instrumental as a leader of Fox Chase's molecular oncology program since 1989. Previously, Knudson served as director of Fox Chase's Institute for Cancer Research until 1982, Center president from 1980 to 1982 and scientific director from 1982 to 1983.

Fox Chase Cancer Center is one of 35 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation. The Center's activities include basic and clinical research including prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, and community outreach programs.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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