Chemical Society's Highest Award Goes To Ronald Breslow

Ronald Breslow, Ph.D., of Columbia University has just been chosen to receive the American Chemical Society's 1999 Priestley Medal for his efforts to develop cancer-fighting drugs and other useful chemicals as well as for his service in making the science more accessible to the public. The gold medal will be presented to him at the Washington-based Society's national meeting next spring.

"I think it's nice to aim to understand the chemistry of life. But more than that, I want to learn from nature -- to use that chemistry to make molecules that are better," said Breslow, an organic chemist. "It's a terrific honor to be selected for this award."

The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific organization, has no higher honor than the Priestley Medal. The award is named for Joseph Priestley, who reported the discovery of oxygen in 1774, and its first recipient, in 1923, was Ira Remsen, the chemist credited with bringing laboratory research to the American university.

"What I do is make new molecules with interesting properties," particularly in medicine, summarized New York-based Breslow.

For example, he said, his research group has a novel approach to ridding the body of cancer: don't kill the cancer cells, but make them normal.

"It's very difficult to make a selective toxic compound -- that is, a chemotherapy drug that kills cancer cells without killing normal cells," he said. This is true largely because cancer comes not from foreign cells, "but from normal ones that are misbehaving. They've lost their balance, and we try to restore it."

Two such chemotherapy agents are promising so far in animal trials with the National Cancer Institute.

Every kind of tissue needs to make enough new cells to replace old ones or to grow. Thus the body keeps an inventory of immature "templates" called stem cells. These juveniles can

Contact: Nancy Blount
American Chemical Society

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