Harold Eliot Varmus (born December 18, 1939) is an American Nobel Prize-winning scientist and the 14th Director of the National Cancer Institute, a post to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama. He was a co-recipient (along with J. Michael Bishop) of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes. He also serves as one of three co-Chairs of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Varmus was born to Beatrice, a social service worker, and Frank Varmus, a physician, Jewish parents of Eastern European descent, in Oceanside, New York. In 1957, he graduated from Freeport High School in Freeport, NY and enrolled at Amherst College, intending to follow in his father's footsteps as a medical doctor, but eventually graduating with a B.A. in English literature. He went on to earn a graduate degree in English at Harvard University in 1962 before changing his mind once again and applying to medical schools. He was twice rejected from Harvard Medical School. That same year, he entered the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and later worked at a missionary hospital in Bareilly, India and the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. As an alternative to serving militarily in the Vietnam War, Varmus joined the Public Health Service at the National Institutes of Health in 1968. Working under Ira Pastan, he researched the regulation of bacterial gene expression by cyclic AMP. In 1970, he began postdoctoral research in Bishop's lab at University of California, San Francisco. There, he and Bishop performed the oncogene research that would win them the Nobel Prize. He became a faculty member at UCSF in 1972 and a professor in 1979. In 1989, Bishop and Varmus were awarded the Nobel Prize. Varmus described the work in his Nobel lecture...
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