Inside Salk - July 2012 - page 10

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Lead Story
Inside Salk 07|12
in the way that cancer research is conducted.
“Renato was a giant of cancer biology, and
he did not shy away frommaking bold, visionary
statements,” says
Inder Verma
, a professor in
Salk’s Laboratory of Genetics.
One example was the two-page “Perspective”
he wrote for Science magazine in 1986, in
which he argued that the best way to understand
cancer would be to sequence the entire human
genome and that an international collaboration
should be convened to tackle the project.
GeoffreyWahl
, a professor in Salk’s Gene
Expression Laboratory, says this assertion,
which led to the Human Genome Project,
completed in 2003, may have beenDulbecco’s
most transcendent contribution to science.
“Little could he have imagined that this
suggestionwould not only become a reality in
his lifetime, but would transform all areas of
biology,” saysWahl.
Eckhart adds that at the time, many people
felt the genome project was premature andwas
going to be very expensive, siphoning off a lot of
National Institutes of Healthmoney that could
otherwise be spent on research.
In his Nobel Prize lecture, Dulbecco took
the opportunity to warn that substances in the
environment, such as tobacco smoke, can cause
geneticmutations that lead to cancer. “While
we spend our life asking questions about the
nature of cancer andways to prevent or cure it,
societymerrily produces oncogenic substances
and permeates the environment with them,” he
told the audience.
He urged governments to discourage use of
tobacco and also to test chemicals for their
ability to produce cancer-causingmutations.
“He was one of the first prominent people to
stand up and take a very public position about
the cancer risks of smoking,” says Hunter. “It
was daring—not what the committee expected to
hear. We—all of us—owe a great deal to Renato
Dulbecco. Many of us are in cancer biology
because of the example he set for us.”
MaureenandRenatoDulbecco
RobertW. Holley, MaureenDulbecco andRenatoDulbecco at a party celebratingHolley’s havingwon theNobel Prize, 1968.
Hewas one of the first prominent people to stand up and
take a very public position about the cancer risks of smoking.
– Tony hunter
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