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Two NIEHS Grantees Elected to National Academy of Sciences

June 2005

Dr. Michael Karin, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of California in San Diego and Dr. Mary-Claire King, American Cancer Society Professor, at the University of Washington in Seattle, both NIEHS grantees, was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

During the business session of the 142nd annual meeting of the Academy, 72 new members and 18 foreign associates were chosen from 14 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. Membership in the Academy is one of the highest honors bestowed upon a U.S. scientist or engineer. The recent elections bring the active membership to 1,976.

"In the last 20-something years my major interest has been in studying how cells respond to a variety of extracellular stimuli including environmental toxins, environmental stress as well as more physiological stimuli like cytokines and polypeptide hormones and so on," said Karin.

"NIEHS has been very, very helpful and very important in my work," he said.

"It's not only the support, it's the interaction with NIEHS and people there have driven me to look at some new questions and how the environment affects our physiology at the molecular level by trying to understand how genes are regulated," Karin said. "NIEHS has not only provided me with the funding to ask the questions, but also the material which led to the questions. Sometime it's even more important to have good questions than to have the funding for them."

Dr. Karin has recently discovered a link between inflammation and cancer. "That's the latest hot thing in the lab right now and I am very enthusiastic about it because I think even though people have suspected a link between inflammation and cancer, exactly how it occurs has not been understood, he said. As we are understanding more and more about it, at least I am coming to the realization of how important it is in tumor promotion, tumor progression. I believe this area of investigation will provide us new approaches in the very near future."

Dr. Karin gave a heads up on his newest paper. "We have a new paper coming out which shows that chemical carcinogenesis depends on inflammation," he said. "It should be out July and it has been supported directly from the Superfund," Dr. Karin said.

Dr. King was elected to the Academy for her studies of the genetics of complex human conditions. Her primary areas of interest are breast and ovarian cancer and inherited deafness. Her approach is to apply human genetics and genomics to identification and characterization of critical genes in informative families and populations. Because these conditions are not purely genetic, her group also studies the interaction between genetic and environmental influences on human traits. Her lab also applies genomic sequencing to the identification of victims of human rights abuses.

King travels extensively as an advocate for breast cancer research. She discovered that mutations in a single gene, BRCA1, cause breast cancer in many high-risk families. The discovery changed the way people think about human genetics. Before this discovery the widespread view was that diseases like breast cancer are caused by multiple genes interacting with environmental factors.

NAS is a private, non-profit, self perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology. The National Academy of Sciences was signed into being by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863, to investigate, examine experiment and report on any science or art subject by request from any government department. To initiate key studies and projects, the Academy relies on private funding from individuals, companies, foundations and other philanthropies.

(At press time, Factor was not able to get an interview with Dr. Mary-Claire King)

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