For the discovery of VEGF as a major mediator of angiogenesis and the development of an effective anti-VEGF therapy for wet macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the elderly.
The 2010 Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors a scientist who discovered vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a key participant in blood-vessel formation, and exploited this knowledge to devise an effective treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Napoleone Ferrara (Genentech) has provided a therapy that can, for the first time, improve sight for people with this illness, many of whom were previously destined for blindness. Ferrara’s work has uncovered the lynchpin for one of the body’s most important physiological processes and unlocked a novel approach for combating a serious eye disorder.
People have known since Aristotle’s time that blood nourishes the body, yet the molecular underpinnings of blood-vessel formation remained mysterious for millennia. Initial insights arose from the study of cancer and eye disorders. Starting in the late 19th century, scientists reported that blood vessels proliferate before and during tumor expansion and that rapid tumor growth depends on a rich vascular supply. They documented that tumor cells release diffusible factors that foster angiogenesis, the creation and remodeling of new blood vessels from existing ones. The eye, too, could host troublesome blood-vessel growth, and in 1948, Isaac C. Michaelson (University of Glasgow) proposed that the retina contains an angiogenic factor that contributes to a form of blindness associated with premature birth.
Award presentation by Richard Lifton
“A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.” These words, written by a military and political leader of Genoese ancestry, Napoleon Bonaparte, are exemplified in the work of today’s Lasker~DeBakey Award recipient, a basic and clinical science leader and another notable Napoleone of Italian ancestry, Napoleone Ferrara. For decades, scientists had the idea that there was a diffusible factor that promotes blood vessel growth and, in turn, that inhibiting this growth might be useful in the treatment of certain diseases. But the identity of this factor proved maddeningly elusive, and the concept remained untested. Napoleon Ferrera gave this important idea its bayonets by identifying and characterizing this factor and developing specific antibodies that prevent its function. Ferrara indeed started a therapeutic revolution by showing that inhibition of this molecule’s action is highly effective in preventing blindness in people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Acceptance remarks by Napoleone Ferrara
Acceptance remarks, 2010 Lasker Awards Ceremony
I am honored and humbled to receive the Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award. I offer my most sincere thanks to the Lasker Foundation and the Lasker Jury members for this wonderful recognition.
I joined the angiogenesis field almost accidentally over 25 years ago. My interests began as a basic science question on the physiology of some poorly known pituitary cells, just to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. It would have been difficult to predict that these studies could one day have broad biological implications, even less that they would result in therapeutic advances for devastating diseases like cancer and neovascular age-related macular degeneration. I could also never have imagined those many years ago that one day I would be here taking to such a distinguished audience and accepting a Lasker Award. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to undertake such a journey.
Interview with Napoleone Ferrara
Video Credit: Susan Hadary