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Collaborators Cohen, Levi-Montalcini win medical Nobel.

Collaborators Cohen, Levi-Montalcini win medical Nobel

this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen, the Karolinska Institute announced this week. The two researchers, who collaborated on their early work, were honored for discoveries that are "of fundamental importance for our understanding of the mechanisms whch regulate cell and organ growth." Cohen and Levi-Montalcini will share the prize's approximately $290,000.

Levi-Montalcini began her research in her native Italy in the late 1930s. Forced to work out of a makeshift bed-room laboratory because of anti-Semitic laws that resulted in her dismissal from the University of Turin, she studied chicken eggs smuggled to her by friends. After the war and time spent treating refugees in Italy, she emigrated in 1947 to Washington University in St. Louis to join a laboratory run by Viktor Hamburger.

There, she showed that mouse tumors transplanted into chick embryos induced nerve growth, even without direct contact with the embryos' development nerve tissue. The tumors' nerve growth factor (NGF) was so potent that minute quantities -- one-billionth of a gram per milliliter of culture solution -- induced nerve growth within 30 seconds.

Atter Cohen joined Hamburger's laboratory in 1952, he purified the factor, a protein, and determined the sequence of its amino acids. Cohen continued his work with a second growth factor he accidentally encountered while using crude extracts of NGF-containing mouse salivary glands. This factor, later termed epidermal growth factor (EGF), stimulates many different processes in the body, including proliferation of cells in the skin, cornea, immune systems, liver, blood cells, thyroid, ovaries and pituitary gland. Several National Institutes of Health researchers recently showed that EGF's presence is necessary for sperm prduction in mice (SN:8/30/86, p.135).

Following their seminal work, Levi-Montalcini returned to Rome to join the Institute of Cell Biology, where she now teaches; Cohen moved to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he is studying the mechanism by which EGF interacts with its receptor and stimulates cells. He has found that the receptor also acts as an enzyme. What intracellular proteins the enzyme acts on is something "everybody's tring to discover," he says.

The two growth factors hold great clinical promise, the Nobel committee notes. EGF has already proved its ability to enhance wound healing in animals, and clinical trials in humans have begun with recombinantly produced ECF. NGF, the committee suggests, may prove useful in enhancing repair of damaged nerves, andstudying its function will add to the knowledge of errors of development, senile dementia, wound healing, muscular dystrophy and certain tumors.

Since the discovery of EGF and NGF, several other growth factors have been discovered. Levi-Montalcini and Cohen, the Nobel committee notes, "have created a scientific school with an increasing number of followers."

the two researchers recently shared the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Researche Award (SN: 9/27/86, p.197). This markes the third year in a row in which recipients of one of the two prestigious medical awards also won the other.
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Title Annotation:Stanley Cohen, Rita Levi-Montalcini
Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 18, 1986
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