2012 Honorees

Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Blackburn is the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discoveries in telomere biology. She earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the University of Cambridge where she worked with Frederick Sanger developing methods to sequence DNA using RNA. In 1975 she moved to the United States and Yale University for a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Joseph Gall. There she began what would become her groundbreaking work on the ciliate, Tetrahymena thermophila, sequencing the ends of chromosomes and uncover­ing ‘strange’ DNA repeats. She discovered that telomere DNA was being replenished by an unknown mechanism and predicted that it involved an enzyme, a contrary notion at that time. Later, in 1984, while working as an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, she and her graduate student Carol Greider identified telomerase, and later showed that this protein is composed of both a protein and a RNA component, with the RNA serving as the template to add DNA to telomeres. Dr. Blackburn rose to full professorship at UC Berkeley before becoming the Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco. She continues her work there, where she and her lab team are advancing the leading edge of telomere biology.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Blackburn has been recognized for her seminal contribution to the field of telomere biology with numerous prizes, awards, and honorary degrees, including the 2006 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research and elections to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Medicine. In 2007, Time magazine named her one of the ‘100 Most Influential People in the World,’ and in 2008 she was the North American Laureate for the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women In Science. The scientific community bestowed upon her the ultimate recognition of her legacy by honoring Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn with the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Dr. Blackburn is currently the Morris Herzstein Endowed Chair in Biology and Physiology in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also a Non-Resident Fellow of the Salk Institute.


Azra Raza, M.D.
Columbia University

Dr. Raza is Professor of Medicine and Director of the MDS Center at Columbia University in New York, NY. Dr. Raza completed her medical education in Pakistan, training in Internal Medicine at the University of Maryland, Franklin Square Hospital and Georgetown/VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and completed her fellowship in Medical Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. She started her research in Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) in 1982 and moved to Rush University, Chicago, Illinois in 1992, where she was the Charles Arthur Weaver Professor in Oncology and Director, Division of Myeloid Diseases. The MDS program, along with a Tissue Repository containing more than 50,000 samples from MDS and acute leukemia patients was successfully relocated to the University of Massachusetts in 2004 and to Columbia University in 2010. Before moving to New York, Dr. Raza was the Chief of Hematology Oncology and the Gladys Smith Martin Professor of Oncology at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester. She has published the results of her laboratory research and clinical trials in prestigious, peer reviewed journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Blood, Cancer, Cancer Research, British Journal of Hematology, Leukemia, Leukemia Research (276 full-length papers, 15 book chapters, 537 abstracts, and editor of a book devoted to MDS). She is also the co-author of GHALIB: Epistemologies of Elegance, a book on the works of the famous Urdu poet. Dr. Raza serves on numerous National and International panels as a reviewer, consultant and advisor and is the recipient of a number of awards including The First Lifetime Achievement Award from APPNA, Award in Academic Excellence twice (2007 and 2010) from Dogana, and Woman of the Year Award from Safeer e Pakistan, CA and The Hope Award in Cancer Research 2012. Dr. Raza has been named as one of the 100 Women Who Matter by Newsweek Pakistan in March 2012. In the last 34 years, Dr. Raza has mentored dozens of young researchers both in her laboratory and in the clinic. Most of her trainees have had highly successful careers of their own at the topmost institutions in the country. Her mentees populate the cancer centers at Harvard, Yale, MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and almost all major Universities in the country.


Janet Rowley, M.D.
University of Chicago

Janet Rowley has transformed the fields of cancer and cytogenetics and as a result the field of molecular oncology. Her discovery of recurring chromosome translocations was a landmark event that caused a major shift in the paradigms relating to cancer biology in the 1970s. She has provided some of the most persuasive evidence that tumors are associated with specific cytogenetic changes that reflect critical genetic changes. The Philadelphia chromosome in chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) identified in 1960 seemed to be the exception to the prevailing paradigm that chromosome abnormalities in malignant cells were irrelevant epiphenomenon that occurred as the result rather than as the case of the malignant phenotype. She used a newly developed technique, quinacrine fluorescence to identify the unique banding pattern of each human chromosome translocations identified in any human cancer, namely the 8;21 translocation in acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and the 9;22 translocation, which results in the Phildelphia chromosome. She subsequently discovered six other very important translocations and/or inversions, including the t(15;17) in acute promyelocytic leukemia and the t(14;18) in follicular lymphoma. With these discoveries she provided compelling evidence in the 1970s that specific translocations caused specific leukemias and lymphomas. Although there was initial resistance, her work was proven immensely influential.

Her work has has a major impact on patient treatment. The development of Gleevec (imatinib) was based on the genetic analysis of her discovery in 1972 of the 9;22 translocation in CML.

Dr. Rowley earned a Ph.B. (1944), B.S. (1946) and M.D. (1948) at the University of Chicago. In 1962, after a year at Oxford studying normal human chromosomes, she returned to the University of Chicago, as a research associate Section of Hematology/Oncology, and became a Professor of Medicine in 1977, a position she holds today. In 2009 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 1998 she shared the Lasker Award for work on genetic changes in cancer and also received the National Medal of Science.


Joseph Schlessinger, Ph.D.
Yale University

Joseph Schlessinger is the Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and the William H. Prusoff Professor at Yale University School of Medicine.  He is also the founding director of the new Cancer Biology Institute at Yale West Campus and Chief Scientist of Yale Cancer Center.  From 1990 to 2001 he was Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and the Helen and Milton A. Kimmelman, Professor at New York University Medical Center.  He was also the Director of the Skirball Institute of NYU from 1998 until 2001.  In 1991 he co-founded Sugen, Inc., in 2001 he co-founded Plexxikon, Inc. and in 2008 he founded Kolltan.  From 1980 to 1991, Dr. Schlessinger was the Ruth and Leonard Simon Professor in Cancer Research in the Department of Chemical Immunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.  Dr. Schlessinger was Research Director at Rorer Biotechnology, Inc., in Pennsylvania from 1988 to 1990.  He has also held positions at Meloy Laboratories, Inc. in Rockville, Maryland from 1985 to 1988.

He is a member of the National Academy of Science, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Science.  He is on the editorial boards of, Cell, Molecular Cell, EMBO J., Journal of Cell Biology and many other journals. Dr. Schlessinger’s academic honors include the Ciba-Drew prize, the Antoine Lacassagne prize, the Distinguished Service Award from Miami Nature Biotechnology, the Taylor prize, the Dan David prize and the Penzcoller Foundation-AACR International Award for Cancer among other prizes. 

Dr. Schlessinger received his Bachelor of Science degree, Magna Cum Laude, in chemistry and physics and his Master of Science degree, Magna Cum Laude, in chemistry from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel.  He received Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Department of Chemical Physics at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel in the field of biophysics.