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Alfred G Knudson Jr, MD, PhD, of Fox Chase Cancer Center, wins Bristol-Myers Squibb Cancer Research Award

Recognized for Groundbreaking Contributions to Genetics and Cancer Research with Two-Hit Model of How Cancers Develop

PHILADELPHIA (February 24, 2005) — Alfred G Knudson Jr, MD, PhD, a Fox Chase Cancer Center Distinguished Scientist and senior advisor to the president of Fox Chase in Philadelphia, Pa., has been selected to receive the 28th annual Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover Award for Distinguished Achievement in Cancer Research. He is recognized for his groundbreaking "two-hit model" that explains how cancer develops when tumor-suppressor genes are damaged. This finding enhanced the understanding of the role of heredity and other factors in causing cancer.

In 1971, after years of observing cases of childhood cancer and the likelihood that certain heredity patterns played a role in them, Dr Knudson focused on 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, he 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 - developed, either spontaneously or otherwise.

He further theorized that there are genes in a cell - which he called anti-oncogenes and are now called tumor-suppressor genes - whose function is to stop abnormal cell growth. The later identification of the Rb (retinoblastoma) gene by a group of Boston researchers headed by Robert A Weinberg, PhD, became the first of a large number of tumor-suppressor genes to be identified. Such genes must be inactivated for tumors to arise. Knudson's now-proven theories significantly advanced the understanding of how genetic errors can turn normal cells into cancer cells and led to renewed efforts to interrupt the process.

"Well before modern molecular tools were even available to confirm his theories, Dr Knudson used clinical observations, an insightful and far-reaching understanding of genetics and mathematical models to provide a pioneering and novel understanding of the relationship between hereditary and non-hereditary forms of cancer," said Robert A Kramer, PhD, vice president, Oncology and Immunology Discovery Biology, Bristol-Myers Squibb. "He also correctly predicted the existence of tumor-suppressor genes and their important functions in explaining how many types of familial cancers arise. As a result of these extraordinary achievements, new targets for prevention and treatment are being developed and new paths to fight cancer are being forged. His work has significantly propelled our understanding of cancer formation and therefore our development of potential ways to prevent or treat it."

Knudson received his BA in 1944 from the California Institute of Technology, his MD from Columbia University in 1947 and his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1956. He is currently both a Fox Chase Cancer Center Distinguished Scientist and a senior advisor to the Fox Chase president.

Knudson has also served on the faculty of a number of other leading research institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the City of Hope Medical Center. In addition to serving as director of the Fox Chase Institute for Cancer Research until 1982, he was president of the Center from 1980 to 1982. He also served as dean and professor of medical genetics of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas at Houston from 1970 to 1976.

Among his numerous awards and honors, Knudson received the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1998 and was awarded the Kyoto Prize for Basic Science in 2004.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Freedom to Discover Grants and Awards Program, under which the Distinguished Achievement Award is presented, was initiated in 1977. It marked its 25th anniversary in 2002 and so far has committed over $110 million in no-strings-attached funding in six biomedical research areas: cancer, cardiovascular, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases, neuroscience and nutrition.

Knudson was selected by an independent panel of his peers, in a process in which Bristol-Myers Squibb takes no active role. The Award, a $50,000 cash prize and a silver commemorative medallion, is awarded annually in each of the six therapeutic areas. Dr Knudson will officially receive his award at a dinner to be held in New York City on October 19, 2005.


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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