From left to right above: Webster Cavenee, Ph.D., Thaddeus P. Dryja, M.D., Brenda L. Gallie, M.D., A. Linn Murphree, M.D.

By the 1970’s, oncogenes had been identified as genes that cause or predispose to human cancer by being activated or inappropriately turned on. In the early to mid 1980’s, teams led by ophthalmologists Ted Dryja, Brenda Gallie and Linn Murphree along with basic scientists, primarily Web Cavenee, successfully mapped and cloned the gene responsible for the childhood eye cancer retinoblastoma. Not only was this RB1 gene primarily responsible for retinoblastoma but it also turned out to be the prototype of a new class of human cancer genes referred to as suppressor cancer genes or anti-oncogenes. Today, more than 30 years later, it is known that most human cancers, with the notable exception of the leukemias and lymphomas, carry mutations in anti-oncogenes. Genes in this class act normally to prevent cancer. They cause or predispose to cancer by having their normal function of controlling cell growth impaired or knocked out by a mutation or chromosomal deletion. It is the scientists that collectively identified and defined the first human cancer suppressor gene, RB1, that we honor today. This body of work has had a domino effect in cancer medicine and has made the world a better place.

Webster Cavenee, Ph.D.
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Thaddeus P. Dryja, M.D.
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Brenda L. Gallie, M,D.
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A. Linn Murphree, M.D.
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