With more than three decades in medicine, Dr. Bert Vogelstein has collected his share of honors. However, Vogelstein, a leading figure in cancer research, said the social and monetary magnitude of his most recent award sets it apart from the rest.
On Feb. 20, Dr. Vogelstein, a Pikesville native, was one of 11 scientists worldwide to receive the inaugural Breakthrough in Life Sciences Prize, which recognizes excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.
Along with the recognition comes a prize of $3 million — more than twice the amount of an individual Nobel Prize.
Dr. Vogelstein is co-director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Clayton Professor of Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. His most notable findings include identifying genes that are responsible for causing hereditary forms of colon cancer. His discoveries continue to lead his lab and others around the world in developing genetic tests, diagnostics and therapies for cancer.
He said that while the money factor is phenomenal, he’s more taken by the purpose of the award.
“According to those who founded it, the whole idea was to try to bring more attention to scientists and stimulate young people to think more about science as a career,” Dr. Vogelstein said. “I think they are trying to publicize it, make it clear that science is not only intellectually satisfying, but financially satisfying.”
How does an organization afford awarding $33 million to 11 scientists? Sponsors with deep pockets.
The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation is backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Apple Board Chairman Art Levinson, among others.
Dr. Vogelstein, 63, said his plans for the money include paying for his grandchildren’s college educations, helping fund his current research efforts and supporting the passion of his wife, Ilene, who is the preschool director at Beth El Congregation.