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Awards honor Alt's three decades of genetic cancer research

Frederick W. Alt, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the Children's Hospital Boston Department of Molecular Medicine, has received the Clowes Memorial Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, acknowledging his three decades of seminal discoveries in genomic instability and cancer. The Clowes is the oldest award given by the AACR, and recognizes outstanding recent accomplishments in basic cancer research. The award will be presented at the AACR's 95th Annual Meeting in Orlando, Fla. (March 27-31, 2004). This month Alt, who holds a doctorate in Biological Sciences, also received the prestigious Scientific Leadership Award in Immunology from the Irvington Institute for Immunological Research in New York City.

Alt was the first to elucidate a molecular mechanism for genomic instability (an increased tendency to develop gene mutations) involved in promoting cancer. The human genome is at constant risk for mutations due to environmental insults, errors in gene replication, and other factors that can cause chromosomes to break and bits of DNA to be lost, duplicated, or reshuffled to the wrong chromosomes (translocated). Cells have repair mechanisms that constantly fix this damage, but when the repair process breaks down, the genome becomes unstable and cancers are more likely to develop.

Alt's wide-ranging research has important implications for cancer prevention and has sparked much additional research by other scientists. His work has touched on many aspects of genomic instability and cancer. Several key advancements specifically cited by the AACR are detailed below, followed by a description of Alt's more recent work.

Gene amplification

Alt's early work, as a student with Robert Schimke in the 1970s, led to the discovery of a major form of genomic instability known as gene amplification, or creation of many duplicate copies of a gene, sometimes even numbering in the thousands. Studying how
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Contact: Susan Craig
susan.craig@childrens.harvard.edu
617-355-6420
Children's Hospital Boston
24-Mar-2004


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