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Cold Spring Harbor scientist Bruce Stillman awarded Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. prize

Bruce Stillman
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Shares $250,000 General Motors Award For Outstanding Basic Science Contributions to Cancer Research

Detroit, MIBruce Stillman, president and CEO, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, has been awarded the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize, one of three awards given annually by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (GMCRF). The Sloan Prize recognizes the most outstanding recent contribution in basic science related to cancer research. Along with the Kettering Prize and Mott Prize, also awarded by the GMCRF, this high honor has been bestowed on a select number of the world’s top scientists, 12 of whom have subsequently won Nobel Prizes.

Stillman, along with co-winner Dr. Thomas Kelly, director, Sloan-Kettering Institute of New York, was cited for his major contributions to our understanding of the biochemistry and regulation of DNA replication in cells with a nucleus (eukaryotes), which include human cells.

“Understanding the process of DNA replication in normal cells has been important for us to understand what goes wrong in cancer cells,” Stillman said. “We’ve learned so much about the process of chromosome duplication and how it integrates into the biochemical pathways that are defective in cancer cells.”

Stillman’s work has had a profound impact in the field of cancer research. Studying DNA replication in both human cells and yeast extracts, Stillman made two significant discoveries. In the 1980s, Dr. Kelly and he discovered the protein machinery that enables chromosomes to be copied. In 1992, he discovered a protein complex (the Origin of Recognition Complex, or ORC) that regulates the copying process.

The significance of his discoveries to cancer, according to Stillman, is that entire chromosomes need to be copied accurately and just once in the cell division process.

“If parts of chromosomes are copied more than once before cell division, cells can acquire abnormalities in the number of genes,” Stillman said. “A characteristic of cancer cells is that they have an altered number of genes compared to normal cells. Furthermore, some cancer cells do not copy DNA accurately, which results in mutations.”

When Stillman completed his doctorate work, he sought a postdoctoral position with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, led at the time by Jim Watson, who along with Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA.

“I was excited about Cold Spring Harbor because Jim had set up a lab specifically to work on the cancer-causing DNA viruses that I had been studying,” Stillman said. “The resources were extraordinary, and it was like coming to a playground that had lots of great toys and many amazing scientists.”

“I was surprised and obviously very pleased when I learned I won the Sloan Prize with Tom Kelly,” Stillman added. “I believe the award is a recognition for the accomplishments of the entire field of chromosome replication. It’s not only Tom Kelly’s and my work, but the combined efforts of all my students and postdoctoral fellows and others in the field who have made outstanding contributions.”

A native of Sydney, Australia, Stillman earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Sydney and his doctorate from the John Curtain School of Medical Research at the Australian National University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Order of Australia and a Fellow of the Royal Society (London).

Dr. Samuel A. Wells, Jr., president of the GMCRF, called Stillman an exemplary scientist and a worthy recipient of the Sloan Prize. “Bruce was chosen through a rigorous process conducted by a panel of prestigious international scientists,” he said.

GM has made cancer research a key philanthropic priority, and this year marks the 26th anniversary of the GMCRF Awards. GM has given more than $50 million to the cause, and is committed to helping eradicate cancer by supporting cancer research until the battle is won.

“Cancer research is crucial, because the effects of the disease are so far-reaching,” said GMCRF Chairman Harry J. Pearce. Pearce, a cancer survivor, has indicated on many occasions that he credits cancer research with saving his life. “Over 10,600 GM employees, retirees and their family members were treated for cancer in the past year alone.”

As part of the commitment to cancer research, the automaker established the GMCRF in 1978 to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of basic scientists and clinical scientists in cancer research around the world.

The Sloan Prize, among the most prestigious in the field of medicine, is one of three awards GM announces annually. Stillman and Kelly will share $250,000 and each will receive a gold medallion. To date, GMCRF has awarded nearly $14 million to 105 scientists in an effort to focus worldwide scientific and public attention on cancer research.

The other 2004 GMCRF Award winners are: Robert Langer, professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. (Charles F. Kettering Prize); and Dr. Charles J. Sherr, Herrick Foundation chair of Genetics and Tumor Cell Biology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. (Charles S. Mott Prize). The Kettering Prize recognizes the most outstanding recent contribution to the diagnosis or treatment of cancer. The Mott Prize is given for the most outstanding recent contribution related to the cause or prevention of cancer.

“Through these awards, GM supports some of the world’s most gifted scientists, who have made highly important discoveries leading to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer,” Wells said. “Research is the basis for all cancer breakthroughs, and we must do everything we can to support and nurture that spirit of discovery.”

The GMCRF Annual Scientific Conference, held at the National Institutes of Health on June 8 and 9, focused on “Genome Integrity and Cancer” and included a lecture by Stillman describing his research. GM presented the prizes to the laureates during an awards ceremony at the U.S. Department of State on the evening of June 9.

Written by: Communications Department | | 516-367-8455

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About General Motors

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer, employs about 325,000 people globally. Founded in 1908, GM has been the global automotive sales leader since 1931. GM today has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 192 countries. In 2003, GM sold nearly 8.6 million cars and trucks, about 15 percent of the global vehicle market. GM’s global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM and its products can be found on the company’s corporate website at

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. Home to eight Nobel Prize winners, the private, not-for-profit Laboratory employs 1,000 people including 600 scientists, students and technicians. The Meetings & Courses Program annually hosts more than 12,000 scientists. The Laboratory’s education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a graduate school and the DNA Learning Center with programs for middle, high school, and undergraduate students and teachers. For more information, visit