Wilmot Cancer Center Honors Scientist for Research Contributions

October 13, 2003

Research by Martin Gorovsky, Ph.D., was recognized by the journal Science as some of the best in 2002.

A scientist whose RNA research was cited as a major contribution to the top breakthrough of 2002 by the journal Science was recently honored by the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Martin Gorovsky, Ph.D., received the 2003 Davey Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to cancer research. 

The Davey Memorial Award was established in 1997 in memory of R. Bruce Davey, a local businessman and community leader who died of cancer. It is presented annually to a Wilmot Cancer Center scientist at the annual scientific symposium.

Biology professor Martin Gorovsky, Ph.D., and his team discovered a complex DNA error-correction system that likely evolved from an ancient self-defense mechanism, is still active in nearly every organism. This system is able to use primeval genetic invaders’ tricks against them and turn them into useful cell functions. The mechanism neutralizes foreign genetic material that has been inserted into the cell’s DNA is neutralized so it cannot be passed on to the next generation.

Scientists around the country have praised this finding and say it provides new understanding of how cells control the activity of their genes. 

“This is an excellent example of how basic science research enhances a broad spectrum of medical issues,” says Richard I. Fisher, M.D., director of the Wilmot Cancer Center. 

Gorovsky is the Rush Rhees professor of biology at the University of Rochester. He and his post doctoral colleague Kazufumi Mochizuki discovered the mechanism while looking at a single-celled organism called Tetrahymena, which contains two nuclei, the area of a cell where DNA is usually stored.

The research team wanted to learn how the cell transfers its genetic code from one of its nuclei to one in its offspring, so they monitored each step as the cell inspected its DNA and passed it to the next generation. That system of checks, which likely also exists in organisms more complex than the protozoan, revealed clues as to how the cell recognizes these harmful invaders by co-opting some of the invader's attributes to help regulate itself.

Gorovsky’s research was published in the journal Cell in September 2002 and reviewed in Science and the Journal of Cell Biology

Science hails these discoveries, which are prompting biologists to overhaul their vision of the cell and its evolution, as 2002’s Breakthrough of the Year,” according to the journal’s year-end issue.

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