University of California, San Diego
2013 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences
For discoveries in the mechanisms of angiogenesis that led to therapies for cancer and eye diseases.
Sometimes cells need to grow and divide at a faster-than-normal rate — for instance, cells involved in healing damaged tissue, or growing the placenta to support an embryo. These cells need a lot of nutrients from the bloodstream, so the body builds new blood vessels nearby. Cancerous cells, too, grow fast, so they often “trick” the body into building new blood vessels to feed them. Until Napoleone Ferrara isolated the growth factor VEGF, it was not understood how normal or cancerous cells demanded the construction of this vascular infrastructure. His discovery has led to drugs that effectively inhibit blood vessel growth, targeting the excess growth that causes diseases such as cancer and macular degeneration.
I am truly honored to receive the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. I offer my most sincere thanks to the sponsors and the selection committee for this wonderful recognition. My interest in angiogenesis began decades ago to answer purely basic science questions, just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. It would have been difficult to predict that these studies would one day result in therapeutic advances for diseases like cancer and age-related macular degeneration. I feel that, while scientific discovery is a source of great excitement, the ability to translate that work into helping others lead a better life is even more rewarding. This award is dedicated to the patients. I thank my current and former lab members and collaborators. Without their dedication and innovation this work would not have been possible. I would like finally to thank my wife, Chika, for her patience and continued support over many years.