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Two US DNA Scientists Win Large Medical Research Prize - 2004-04-23

Two pioneering scientists who are credited with paving the way for the biotechnology industry have won the largest American award in medical research.

Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer are often called the "fathers of biotechnology" for their research in discovering recombinant DNA, more commonly known as gene cloning.

They will split the $500,000 Albany Medical Center Award in Medicine and Biomedical Research, the second largest in the field, after the Nobel Prize.

Stanley Cohen is a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. Herbert Boyer is a co-founder of Genentech, Incorporated, one of the world's first biotechnology companies. Together, they invented a way to transfer from one organism to another pieces of DNA, the genes that determine the functions of the body's cells. The process made the isolation of genes possible. James Barba, the head of the Albany Medical Center, says all of genetic engineering flows from this discovery.

"That has allowed them and other scientists throughout the world to develop all sorts of important applications for clinical treatment of patients such as the development of human insulin for the treatment of diabetes, such as the development of clot dissolving agents for victims of stroke and heart attack, such as the human growth hormone for underdeveloped children, and interferon for cancer patients," he said.

The work of Dr. Cohen and Professor Boyer has also allowed other scientists to develop news diagnostics for the HIV/AIDS and SARS viruses.

The Albany Medical Center credits the two scientists with developing the technologies that are directly responsible for today's booming biotechnology industry.

At a news conference announcing the award, Professor Boyer said both scientists oppose the use of genetic engineering to clone humans. Instead, James Barba said, they want their groundbreaking technologies to be used to treat disease and develop diagnostic therapies.

"They are very aware of profound ethical concerns that such issues present. Rather, they believe that their fundamental initial discovery of recombining DNA has allowed and will continue to allow unbelievable important discoveries with respect to treating human disease. That is what they are interested in," he said.

New York City philanthropist Marty Silverman established the award with a $50 million grant four years ago to recognize and encourage sustained contributions to improving health care and promoting innovative biomedical research.

Previous winners have included Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is well known for his work on the HIV/AIDS virus and one of the co-discoverers of the p-53 protein, a gene that suppresses cancerous tumors in humans.