Bert Vogelstein (born 1949) is Director of the Ludwig Center, Clayton Professor of Oncology and Pathology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. A pioneer in the field of cancer genomics, his studies on colorectal cancers revealed that they result from the sequential accumulation of mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. These studies now form the paradigm for much of modern cancer research.
In the 1980s, Vogelstein developed new experimental approaches to study human tumors. His studies of various stages of colorectal cancers led him to propose a specific model for human tumorigenesis in 1988. In particular, he suggested that "cancer is caused by sequential mutations of specific oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes".
The first tumor suppressor gene validating this hypothesis was that encoding p53. The p53 protein was discovered 10 years earlier by several groups, including that of David Lane and Lionel Crawford, Arnold Levine, and Lloyd Old. But there was no evidence that p53 played a major role in human cancers, and the gene encoding p53 (TP53) was thought to be an oncogene rather than a tumor suppressor gene. In 1989, Vogelstein and his students discovered that TP53 not only played a role in human tumorigenesis, but that it was a common denominator of human tumors, mutated in the majority of them. His group's more recent studies examining the entire compendium of human genes have shown that the TP53 gene is more frequently mutated in cancers than any other gene.
In 1991, Vogelstein and long-time colleague Kenneth W. Kinzler, working with Yusuke Nakamura in Japan, discovered another tumor suppressor gene. This gene, called APC, was responsible for Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), a syndrome associated with the development of numerous small benign tumors, some of which progress to cancer. This gene was independently discovered by Ray White's group at the University of Utah. Vogelstein and Kinzler subsequently showed that non-hereditary (somatic) mutations of APC initiate most cases of colon and rectal cancers. They also showed how APC functions - through binding to beta-catenin and stimulating its degradation.
Vogelstein and Kinzler worked with Albert de la Chapelle and Lauri Aaltonen at the U. Helsinki to identify the genes responsible for Hereditary NonPolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC), the other major form of heritable colorectal tumorigenesis. They were the first to localize one of the major causative genes to a specific chromosomal locus through linkage studies. This localization soon led them and other groups to identify repair genes such as MSH2 and MLH1 that are responsible for most cases of this syndrome...
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