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November 16, 1999

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Hopkins Researcher Awarded Prestigious Young Scientist Prize

Hopkins cancer researcher Victor E. Velculescu, M.D., Ph.D., is the recipient of the Amersham Pharmacia Biotech and Science Prize for Young Scientists for his work in developing a method to rapidly identify disease-related genes and measure gene expression. His winning essay will appear in the November 19, 1999, issue of Science.

Velculescu (pronounced Vel-ku-les-ku) was chosen for his revolutionary thesis work in developing a partially computerized method called SAGE (Serial Analysis of Gene Expression) that is used to speed the discovery of genes involved in a variety of diseases, including cancer, as well as to interpret the large amounts of gene sequence data coming from the Human Genome Project.

"Of the approximately 100,000 genes in the human genome, only a fraction are thought to be active in each type of cell, but there are several thousand different types of cells in the human body and each has a unique pattern of gene expression," explains Velculescu. "This technology allows us to study thousands of genes simultaneously, measure their expression, and quickly identify the genetic differences between normal and tumor cells."

Like the accumulated bar code entries provide a picture of a store's high and low-volume sales items, SAGE gives a picture of the cell's gene expression pattern. A product frequently purchased would be equivalent to high expression; ones rarely purchased amount to low expression.

With SAGE technology, researchers assign to each gene a specific sequence of ten base pairs, using a combination of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymidine, the building blocks of DNA. These sequences are the "bar codes" that represent individual genes. The bar codes are then identified and counted by sophisticated sequencing and computer methods.

"SAGE should really benefit the analyses of human diseases," says Kenneth Kinzler, Ph.D., professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center. "It has already led to important insights into human cancer."

Since 1995, the Amersham Pharmacia Biotech and Science Prize has been awarded to the best young scientists at the beginning of their career and recognizes their outstanding work in the field of molecular biology. Applicants from around the world compete for regional prizes and a grand prize. The $25,000 grand prize will be given to Velculescu at an awards ceremony at the BioMedical Centre of Uppsala University in Sweden on December 9, 1999 coinciding with the Nobel Prize ceremonies.

Born in Romania and a graduate of Stanford University, 29-year old Velculescu received his doctorate in 1998 and medical degree in 1999 from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His work on the development of SAGE was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Kinzler. He is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Bert Vogelstein, M.D., Clayton professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

Dr. Victor Velculescu, Dr. Kenneth Kinzler, Dr. Bert Vogelstein, and the Johns Hopkins University are entitled to sales royalty from Genzyme Molecular Oncology (GMO) which has licensed the SAGE technology described in this press release. Dr. Velculescu, Dr. Kinzler and Dr. Vogelstein also are consultants to GMO and have options to purchase stock in this company, subject to certain restrictions under Johns Hopkins University policy. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by the University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

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