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Weill Cornell's Cantley wins Wolf Prize in Medicine

Lewis Cantley

Dr. Lewis C. Cantley, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been awarded the 2016 Wolf Prize in Medicine from the Wolf Foundation for his discovery of a family of enzymes fundamental to understanding diabetes and cancer.

Considered “Israel’s Nobel Prize,” Wolf Prizes are given annually to scientists and researchers who have made seminal achievements in their fields. This year, seven winners in five categories – agriculture, the arts, chemistry, medicine and physics – will divide a $500,000 cash prize.

Cantley was recognized for his discovery of an enzyme called phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) and the signaling pathway that it controls. Cantley found that human cancers frequently occur due to activation of PI3K, which has led to the development of drugs that target that signaling pathway. Many PI 3-kinase inhibitors are now in clinical trials and, in 2014, the first such drug was approved to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia based on clinical trials conducted at the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. In addition, Cantley showed that insulin activates PI 3-kinase and this discovery revealed a link between obesity, diabetes and cancer.

Cantley will share his award with Dr. C. Ronald Kahn from Harvard Medical School, whose work has provided critical insights into the biochemical mechanism by which insulin controls metabolism. Cantley and Kahn collaborated in a series of papers that elucidated links between insulin, PI 3-kinase and diabetes. Cantley and his fellow laureates will receive their awards in June from President Reuven Rivlin at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive this award, on behalf of myself and the incredible group of brilliant students, postdoctoral fellows and collaborators who I have worked with throughout my career to help elucidate the PI 3-kinase pathway and its role in cancer,” said Cantley, who is also a professor of cancer biology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine.

“It is also a privilege to share the prize with my former Harvard colleague and collaborator Dr. Kahn,” he added, “whose pioneering work identifying and unraveling insulin signaling has facilitated our studies on the role of PI 3-kinase in mediating insulin responses.”

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Jennifer Gundersen