Harold E. Varmus was born on December
18, 1939, on Long Island. In 1957, Varmus entered Amherst
College, followed by graduate studies at Harvard University.
Within the year, he transferred to Columbia College
of Physicians and Surgeons. From 1966 to 1968, he worked
as a medical officer at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital
and then joined Ira Pastan's laboratory at the National
Institutes of Health as a Clinical Associate. In 1970,
he became a post-doctoral fellow at UC San Francisco.
By 1972, Varmus had became a regular member of the faculty
in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, ascending
to the rank of Professor by 1979.
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.
From 1993 to 2000, he served as Director
of the National Institutes of Health. Since January
2000, he has served as President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Center in New York City. He is co-founder and
chairman of the board of directors of the Public Library
of Science, a not-for-profit open access publisher.
California Scientist of the Year (1982)
Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1982)
Passano Foundation Award (1983)
Armand Hammer Cancer Prize (1984)
Alfred P. Sloan Prize from the General Motors Cancer
Gairdner Foundation International Award (1984)
American College of Physicians Award (1987)
National Academy of Science (1984)
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1988)
The following press release from the Royal Swedish
Academy of Sciences describes Varmus' work:
The discovery awarded
with this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology
or Medicine concerns the identification
of a large family of genes which control
the normal growth and division of cells.
Disturbances in one or some of these so-called
oncogenes (Gk ónco(s)
bulk, mass) can lead to transformation
of a normal cell into a tumor cell and
result in cancer.
Michael Bishop and Harold Varmus used an oncogenic
retrovirus to identify the growth-controlling oncogenes
in normal cells. In 1976 they published the remarkable
conclusion that the oncogene in the virus did not represent
a true viral gene but instead was a normal cellular
gene, which the virus had acquired during replication
in the host cell and thereafter carried along.
Bishop's and Varmus' discovery
of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes
has had an extensive influence on the development
of our knowledge about mechanisms for tumor
development. Until now more than 40 different
oncogenes have been demonstrated. The discovery
has also widened our insight into the complicated
signal systems which govern the normal
growth of cells.