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Judah Folkman, Tony Hunter, Joan Massagué, Bert Vogelstein and Robert A. Weinberg

Prince of Asturias Award for Technical & Scientific Research 2004

Each within his different line of research, are at the forefront in the fight against the group of illnesses that goes under the name of cancer.

Judah Folkman

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Judah Folkman (Cleveland, USA, 1933 – Denver, Colorado, USA, 2008) graduated in Medicine at Harvard University in 1957. He was heads the Department of Surgical Research at Boston's Children's Hospital and was Professor of Cellular Biology at Harvard Medical School. Angiogenesis, for which he devised a theory in the sixties, and of which he was considered the father figure, is one of the major research lines in the fight against cancer. It is a process whereby tumours generate their own vascular system, allowing them to receive nutrients and to develop. Doctor Folkman discovered that tumour angiogenesis can be kept at bay for a considerable length of time, and even rendered dormant indefinitely, when tumours produce high levels of certain protein factors, yet regain their angiogenetic capacity and ability to become invasive when these levels dwindle. This has triggered new lines of oncological research into the synthesis of angiogenesis inhibitors, some of which - endostatin and angiostatin, for example - were discovered by Folkman himself.

Doctor Folkman was a member of the American National Academy of Science, and held honoris causa doctorates from fifteen universities.

Judah Folkman died on January 14, 2008 when he was 74 years old.

Tony Hunter

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Tony Hunter (Kent, Reino Unido, 1943), earned his doctorate from Cambridge University (1969), and at present pursues his research interests at the laboratory for molecular and cellular biology at the Salk Institute, in La Jolla, California. Considered to be one of the world's top experts in the study of cell growth-regulating genes, Hunter discovered the phosphorylation of tyrosine kinase, which led the way towards research into these enzymes and the role they play in the transduction, development and growth of cancer-causing cells. Knowledge of tyrosine kinase has been a determining factor in the development of a new generation of drugs to treat oncological conditions.

Doctor Hunter is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Royal Society of London. He holds the Medal of Honour of the American Cancer Society.

Joan Massagué

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Joan Massagué (Barcelona, Spain, 1953)  holds a doctorate in Pharmacy (Biochemistry) from the University of Barcelona (1978). He joined Brown University, Rhode Island, in 1982, where he discovered the structure of the insulin receptor. In 1989, he joined New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to head their Department of Cancer Biology and Genetics. He also researches at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.Joan Massagué is Deputy Director at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and co-leads of one of the IRB’s research projects, the MetLab. A number of research studies on the proliferation of tumour cells and metastasis are being carried out within the framework of this project.

His work has mainly targeted the study of the various glycoproteins that trigger cell transformation. In 1993 he published his studies on the working mechanisms of two of the three factors that check the uncontrolled multiplication of cancer-producing cells: the p27 peptide and the tumour growth factor beta. The identification of TGB β, one of the most powerful inhibitors of cell proliferation, figures outstandingly amongst his work. His team has defined FoxG1 and PI3K-AKT, new targets for future drugs.

Dr Massagué is member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences (USA), the European Molecular Biology Organization, and the Royal Spanish Academies of Medicine and Pharmacy. He has been honoured with over twenty-five awards, noteworthy among which are the 2008 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine, the King Juan Carlos I National Research Award, and the Howard Taylor Ricketts Award.

Bert Vogelstein

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Bert Vogelstein (Baltimore, USA, 1949) is Professor at the Faculty of Medicine Johns Hopkins University and research fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Centre. As a result of his work to identify and characterise gene changes leading to colon cancer, he is now considered one of the benchmark figures in oncological research. He discovered the APC gene - which controls cell growth in the colon - and has also made major contributions to our understanding of the role of the p53 gene in the tumour-producing process, and of other p53-linked genes such as PUMA and PRL-3.

The Medal of Honour of the American Cancer Society (1992), the Pezcoller Foundation Award (1993), the G.H.A. Clowes Memorial (1995), awarded by the American Association of Cancer Research and the acknowledgements of a number of universities around the world figure amongst Bert Vogelstein's distinctions. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Robert Weinberg

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Robert A. Weinberg (Pittsburg, USA, 1942) is a founder member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Professor of Biology at the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned his doctorate in 1969. He is considered to be one of the pioneers in the understanding of the genetics of cancer, and is a specialist in the study of human oncogenes and in tumour suppressor genes. He isolated the first carcinogenic gene, the Ras oncogene, and the first tumour suppressor gene, rb, the retinoblastoma gene. His most recent research is focused on new development models, breast cancer and cancer telomerase.

The U.S. National Medal for Science (1997) figures amongst his distinctions; he is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science.

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