Albany, N.Y — Three physician scientists whose landmark research helped transform the treatment of cancer are the recipients of the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, to be officially awarded May 17. Peter C. Nowell, M.D., the Gaylord P. and Mary Louise Harnwell Professor Emeritus, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, will share the prize with Janet D. Rowley, M.D., University of Chicago, and Brian J. Druker, M.D., Oregon Health & Science University.

The $500,000 award, given to those who have altered the course of medical research, is one of the largest prizes in medicine and science in the United States. This year, the prize will recognize groundbreaking research into the nature of cancer, which has led to the development of a new generation of cancer drugs, most notably Gleevec for chronic myeloid leukemia that, unlike chemotherapy, target specific genetic defects causing cancer. 

Dr. Nowell’s research, the first to show that a genetic defect could be responsible for cancer, has led to numerous discoveries into the growth of cells related to cancers and other disorders. In 1960, as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he and graduate student David A. Hungerford of Fox Chase Cancer Center, discovered a strange chromosome in blood cells from patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), then an incurable form of leukemia. They further observed that the defective chromosome was found only in malignant blood cells in CML patients and that it was not present in healthy individuals. The results were published in Science. This pivotal discovery of what was later named the Philadelphia chromosome was the “smoking gun” for a much debated link between cancer and genetics.

“Although a number of previous studies had shown chromosomal abnormalities in human cancer, the Philadelphia chromosome was the first documentation of a bona fide genetic signature of malignancy, and this discovery led Dr. Nowell to hypothesize that this genetic alteration might somehow provide a growth advantage to the abnormal cells,” said J. Larry Jameson, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Nowell has won numerous regional, national, and international awards, including the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. At Penn, Dr. Nowell has been honored with the School of Medicine's highest honor, the Distinguished Graduate Award, the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Award of Merit. Most recently, he was the recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Science, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome. He has co-authored more than 400 publications and is a member of the Institute of Medicine.

The Albany Medical Center Prize was established in 2000 by the late Morris “Marty” Silverman to honor scientists whose work has demonstrated significant outcomes that offer medical value of national or international importance. A $50 million gift commitment from the Marty and Dorothy Silverman Foundation provides for the prize to be awarded annually for 100 years. For more on the prize, see this release.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

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