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Tjian Shares $250,000 Sloan Prize For Outstanding Cancer Research

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Tjian Shares $250,000 Sloan Prize For Outstanding Cancer Research

Posted May 5, 1999

Photo: Robert Tjian

Professor Robert Tjian.

Robert Tjian, professor of molecular and cell biology, has been recognized by the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation for his major contributions to cancer research.

Tjian and co-winner Robert Roeder of New York's Rockefeller University were cited for their discoveries on the mechanism and regulation of gene transcription in eukaryotic cells. They will share the foundation's Alfred P. Sloan Prize, which honors recent, outstanding basic science contributions to cancer research, during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on June 9.

With a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, Tjian began his scientific career studying how cells live.

"Part and parcel of this type of research is understanding how cells go wrong," he said from his campus laboratory. "That's a big part of understanding disease -- particularly a disease like cancer."

Samuel Wells, Jr., president of the GM Cancer Research Foundation, called Tjian an exemplary scientist and a worthy recipient of the Sloan Prize. "The selection of awardees follows a rigorous review process conducted by a panel of prestigious international scientists," he said.

Tjian expects that the next five to ten years will bring significant breakthroughs in the areas of breast and prostate cancer, due in part to the type of research his laboratory conducts.

"Our research focuses on the root mechanisms that affect all cancers," he explained. "Others will use our data to come up with better diagnostics and treatments."

While his interest in the disease evolved out of scientific curiosity, it has extended into his personal life as well. "Several women in my family have had breast cancer," he said, "and I have two daughters. Like most people, I have a personal stake in this research."

In the last decade, Tjian has further channeled his interest and expertise into the start-up of a biotechnology company to study products for a range of medical conditions. He expects to see results soon.

"Ironically, although we didn't set it up to do this, our first product is likely to be a cancer product."

Born in Hong Kong in 1949, the youngest of nine children, Tjian has gone on to become one of the premier researchers in his field.

"It gives me great pride to have ushered so many students into medical careers, and to watch my students and post-doctoral fellows develop into first rate scientists," he said.

The awards, valued at $250,000 each, are among the most prestigious in the field of medicine. To date, the foundation has awarded over $9 million to 83 scientists. Seven winners have subsequently won Nobel prizes.

In addition to Tjian and Roeder, 1999 laureates include Ronald Levy of Stanford University and Arnold Levine of The Rockefeller University.


May 5 - 11, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 33)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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