Mary-Claire King, PhD, Awarded 2016 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research

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Mary-Claire King, PhD

The National Foundation for Cancer Research has announced that Mary-Claire King, PhD, Professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine (Medical Genetics) at the University of Washington, Seattle, has been awarded the 2016 Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer ­Research.

The National Foundation for Cancer Research selection committee was unanimous in its decision to recognize Dr. King, whose work has proved foundational to the genetic understanding of cancer. In particular, her proof of existence of BRCA1 and the identification of its location made genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancers possible. Dr. King’s discoveries represent a fundamental step in the understanding of cancer and have changed the face of cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, and ­treatment.

“Dr. King is the true pioneer and world leader in the research that clearly demonstrated the genetic causes of breast and ovarian cancers by identifying the BRCA1 gene and its cancer-related mutations,” said Fred Alt, PhD, Program Director in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, Winner of the 2015 Szent-Györgyi Prize, and Chair of this year’s Prize Selection Committee.

He added, “Dr. King’s work has opened a new field that allows scientists to investigate and understand breast and ovarian cancers and other types of genetic diseases with a much more effective approach.”

Impact on Screening

Dr. King’s discovery has led to the genotype-based breast cancer–screening practice that can identify individuals who have inherited mutations in BRCA1 and give them a chance to take preventive measures at an early stage of their lives. 

“I am honored and proud to be selected by the National Foundation for Cancer Research to receive this prestigious award,” said Dr. King. “The research on the BRCA1 gene demonstrated that genetics plays a critical role in cancer. The benefits brought to women and their families by understanding the role of genetics in cancer has encouraged me to address ever more challenging genetic questions of complex diseases.”

Dr. King will be honored at an award ceremony held May 2, 2016, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. ■