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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center's Harold F. Dvorak, M.D., wins Gairdner Award

BOSTON Harold F. Dvorak, MD, senior investigator in the Center for Vascular Biology Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and former chairman of BIDMC's Department of Pathology, is one of eight scientists to win the 2014 Canada Gairdner Awards, which recognize some of the most significant medical discoveries from around the world. Awarded by the Gairdner Foundation, based in Canada, the awards are considered among the most prestigious international awards in medical research.

Dvorak, the Mallinckrodt Distinguished Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, has been recognized for his landmark discovery of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and the development of effective anti-VEGF therapy for cancer and wet macular degeneration. VEGF is a key molecular mediator of new blood vessel formation.

The Gairdner Awards recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. This year's winners showcase a broad range of new medical discoveries related to cancer, cardiovascular disease, immunotherapy and human parasitic diseases.

"Hal Dvorak's groundbreaking discovery of the VEGF signaling protein helped form the basis for the field of angiogenesis, and led to an entirely new means of treating cancer and other diseases by starving blood supply to tumors," says BIDMC Chief Academic Officer Vikas P. Sukhatme, MD, PhD. "Hal is truly a pioneer among cancer researchers and this honor reflects a tremendous body of work that he and his colleagues have conducted over the years. The idea that cancer is a wound that does not heal, as suggested by Hal years ago, has had profound therapeutic implications that are only now starting to be truly recognized."

Dvorak's initial characterization of VEGF as a permeability enhancing factor further suggested that antibodies to it may be effective in treating states of vascular leak, including macular degeneration, which has proven to be the case. "Hal's studies also formed the framework for understanding the cause of preeclampsia, the dangerous complication of pregnancy," adds Sukhatme. "This discovery was made here at BIDMC by Ananth Karumanchi, a colleague in the Center for Vascular Biology Research for whom Hal has been an important mentor, as he has to so many young scientists. On a personal note, Hal is one of the most gracious and collaborative scientists that I have had the pleasure of meeting."

In 1983, Dvorak reported a tumor-derived protein that caused the cells lining tumor blood vessels to become hyperpermeable or "leaky" to circulating molecules. He called the protein vascular permeability factor (VPF), and subsequently demonstrated that VPF was also secreted by many normal cells and plays a key role in wound healing and chronic inflammatory diseases. As the Gairdner Foundation notes, "Dr. Dvorak's research demonstrated that most malignant tumors make VEGF, which assists the tumors to grow beyond minimal size by forming new blood vessels and connective tissue support as in wound healing."

"Dr. Dvorak's work enabled major advances in our understanding of several key physiological processes," adds BIDMC Chairman of Pathology Jeffrey Saffitz, MD, PhD. "I speak on behalf of our entire department in expressing our extreme pride in this award and in Dr. Dvorak's ongoing work in the field of angiogenesis."

A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Medical School, Dvorak is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR). His numerous honors include the 2006 Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research from the NFCR, the 2005 Grand Prix Lefoulon-Delalande-Institut de France Award, and the 2002 Rous-Whipple Award from the American Society of Investigative Pathology.

The Canada Gairdner Awards were created in 1959 to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. The awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto in October 2014.


Contact: Bonnie Prescott
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

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