Pioneers of Promise
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By Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson
Known as the most frequently cited scientist in the world, Hopkins oncology researcher Bert Vogelstein is paving the way to treat and curtail one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States: colon cancer.
In the past decade, Vogelstein and professor of oncology Kenneth Kinzler have linked certain genes, or gene pathways, to colon cancer. And they've helped develop the first diagnostic tests to determine if family members have inherited certain malfunctioning genes. The tests, while expensive, could enable early treatment of the disease and thus prevent deaths.
In one of dozens of findings, the researchers isolated a gene called MSH2, which produces a protein that corrects mistakes created during cell division. If the gene is defective, the piled-up mistakes can lead to cancer's brand of rampant cell growth. The defective gene apparently occurs in about 1 out of 2,000 Americans.
The work led by Vogelstein, professor of oncology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, also provides a basis for gene therapy research. His lab's identification of one gene, p53, as playing a role in most common human tumor types, has expanded study on genetic links to the disease.
Within the Hopkins Medical Institutions, Vogelstein and Kinzler are well-known mentors to young cancer researchers. The profs even feature a work-break beach house for postdocs.
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