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NIEHS-funded investigator awarded Harvey Prize

By Eddy Ball
October 2010

Michael Karin, Ph.D.
Harvey Prize winner Michael Karin (Photo courtesy of UCSD)

NIEHS grantee ( Michael Karin, Ph.D., has been awarded the 2010 Harvey Prize in human health by the Technion, Israel's premier institute of technology, according to a press release issued by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The prestigious prize, which includes a $75,000 cash award, honors Karin's seminal research linking obesity, inflammation, and cancer.

The Harvey Prize has been awarded annually since 1972 to recipients in human health, in science and technology, and for contributions to peace in the Middle East. It is named after Leo M. Harvey, an American industrialist who established the prize fund. To date, 13 Harvey Prize laureates have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.

A distinguished professor of pharmacology and pathology at the UCSD School of Medicine, Karin ( Exit NIEHS is also leader of a UCSD Superfund research project. His Harvey is the latest in a long list of honors he has received for his research (see text box).

In their announcement of the award, the judges noted Karin's “pioneering contributions” to the deciphering of the molecular mechanism used by mammalian cells to react to cytokines, adverse environmental conditions, and various pathogens. “These discoveries,” the judges said, “led to the identification of new target proteins that have recently been used to develop new medications for preventing and treating various malignant tumors.”

Karin will accept the Harvey Prize at a ceremony at the Technion in Haifa, Israel on March 15, along with Alexander Polyakov, Ph.D., a theoretical physicist at Princeton University awarded the 2010 Harvey Prize for science and technology.

NIEHS has funded Karin's grant, “Stress Signaling Pathways in Toxicity and Disease,” since 1993. The grant is currently administered by NIEHS Program Administrator David Balshaw, Ph.D. Karin also receives support from the UCSD Superfund Research Program ( Exit NIEHS, funded by an NIEHS grant ( administered by Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D.

Karin's research interests

Karin's lab has identified cytokines and responding transcription factors involved in cancer. Drugs that inhibit activation of a key transcription factor called STAT3 are in development and slated for clinical trials soon. Karin and colleagues have long been interested in how cells and biological systems function at the molecular level, in both healthy and stressed or diseased states. The research has broad, practical implications and applications, notably in such conditions as obesity and cancer.

“In addition to its well-known contribution to cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, such as type II diabetes, obesity has been found to increase cancer risk,” said Karin. “Of all cancers, the one most affected by obesity is liver cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Our work has shown that obesity promotes the development of liver cancer through inflammatory mechanisms similar to those we elucidated earlier in colorectal cancer, another very common inflammation-promoted cancer.”

Karin has received numerous awards including the Ernst Oppenheimer Award for Excellence in Research from the Endocrine Society, The Herman Beerman Lectureship from the Society for Investigative Dermatology, C.E.R.I.E.S. Research Award for Physiology or Biology of the Skin, The Grossman Lectureship from the American Gastroenterological Association, and an American Cancer Society Research Professorship in 1999. Karin was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. He also serves on several advisory boards and was cofounder of Signal Pharmaceuticals (currently Celgene Corporation).

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