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September 15, 2015

The Lasker Awards—Recognizing and Highlighting Oncology Research

Author Affiliations
  • 1Tumor Vaccine Group, Center for Translational Medicine in Women’s Health, University of Washington, Seattle
  • 2Editor, JAMA Oncology
JAMA. 2015;314(11):1123-1124. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.10964

The Lasker Awards recognize scientists who have made transformational discoveries for the betterment of human health. In oncology, the awards are a reflection of the fundamental laboratory discoveries and the groundbreaking clinical research that have shaped cancer science and treatment.1

In the first decades of the Lasker Awards, many recipients were those trying to decipher the etiology of cancer. It was the age of viral oncogenesis. Peyton Rous (who received the Lasker Award in 1958) was one of the first to identify a virus that caused cancer, albeit in birds. The retrovirus he identified, Rous sarcoma virus (RSV), became one of the most studied viral strains in laboratories across the world. Ludwik Gross (1974) identified both a retrovirus and DNA polyomavirus that could initiate cancer in mice, demonstrating the principles of viral oncogenesis in mammals. Less than a decade later, Renato Dulbecco and Harry Rubin (1964), evaluating how RSV caused cancer, performed a pivotal series of experiments. Their work demonstrated that RNA viruses, like RSV, were not transforming in and of themselves, but needed a second stimulus. DNA viruses, such as polyomavirus, could integrate with the host genome, resulting in direct malignant transformation and chromosomal alterations. These experiments highlighted the genetic nature of cancer.