The NIH hopes the MERIT Award will encourage scientists to "take greater risks, be more adventurous in the lines of inquiry, or take the time to develop new techniques." Less than five percent of NIH investigators are selected to receive the MERIT Award, which provides long-term support for researchers, freeing them from the burden of securing and renewing funding for their work year after year. The award has been presented annually since 1987 to individuals whose "paradigm shifting ideas" and "excellent productivity" make them leaders in their field.
Prof. Oren's research gained the attention of the cancer research world in the early 1980s for his role in cloning p53, the "tumor suppressor gene." Since that time, p53 has been the object of intense scientific scrutiny. It soon became clear that p53 is a part of a complex molecular network, that can suppress -- or fail to suppress -- cancerous growth.
The discovery of p53 and its key role in maintaining healthy cells led to a burgeoning new direction in cancer research. Although it is not the only tumor suppressor gene, mutations in the p53 gene are most common in cancer. In normal cells, p53 sets in motion a complex series of molecular events that can cause cell suicide, or apoptosis -- which, despite its name, is a necessary and healthy mechanism that prevents damaged cells from replicating possibly cancerous mistakes in their DNA. When p53 does not function properly, cancerous cells do not undergo apoptosis, and are able to proliferate in the body. Understanding how p53 works, and
Contact: Jeffrey J. Sussman
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science