When the Albany Medical Center in New York announced last November that it would award a new annual prize in biomedical research, one thing made the prize stand out: a cool half million bucks. Now the center has bestowed its first award on Arnold Levine, president of Rockefeller University in New York City and co-discoverer of a protein that goes awry in cancer.
The prize was instituted with a $50 million gift to the Albany Medical Center from Morris Silverman, a New York City businessman who was educated near Albany. The prize recognizes researchers who've made substantial contributions to medicine and biomedical research. It's the largest annual prize in science or medicine in the United States, and according to an Albany spokesperson it likely carries a purse second only to the Nobel Prize, which last year was worth $915,000.
Levine won the prize, announced 14 March, for his contributions to cancer biology. In 1979, he co-discovered p53, a protein that is defective in over 50% of human cancers. The protein normally cleans up after cells with damaged DNA by clamping down on cell division or prompting cell suicide; without it, cancer cells proliferate. Levine not only helped recognize p53's role in cancer, he also played a leading role in cloning the first p53 DNA and identifying a key protein that binds p53 and modulates its function. He's now testing compounds that might kick a defective p53 protein back into action or crank up the amount of p53 available for damage control.
"Arnie has made seminal contributions at each step in the development of the p53 field," says Frank McCormick, director of the University of California, San Francisco, Comprehensive Cancer Research Center and author of several reviews on p53. He praises Levine for a collaborative and open research style that has influenced many p53 researchers. "For such a competitive field this is a major achievement in itself," McCormick says.