Hopkins' Nathans to get science medal Gene researcher due top U.S. honor

September 28, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Staff Writer

So what is left in life for a scientist who has already won the Nobel Prize?

The National Medal of Science, that's what. And Dr. Daniel Nathans, a Johns Hopkins molecular biologist, said yesterday that he will be a happy man when the medal is bestowed on him by President Clinton at a White House ceremony Thursday.

"It's possible I am not excited as I might otherwise have been," he said. "But I am excited enough, and I am really quite honored to win the National Medal of Science."

The medal is the highest science award in the United States. There are eight winners.

Dr. Nathans is the University Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics and the senior investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

He will receive the president's medal for his scientific work, past and present, and for his contributions to science outside the laboratory, especially his work on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

Dr. Nathans and his team won a Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1978, sharing it with Dr. Werner Arber in Geneva and Dr. Hamilton O. Smith at Hopkins.

They were the first to use what are called "restriction enzymes" to pinpoint and isolate portions of genes on the chromosome. It was a major advance in genetic research, a contribution to the development of the applied science known as genetic engineering.

It led to rapid diagnosis of such genetic diseases as sickle cell anemia and to the creation of disease-resistant genes in plants.

Dr. Nathan is now studying genes that have to do with how cells grow and divide.

"We are trying to determine what these genes are and how they act," he said.

Though the work is not specifically directed at cancer cells, it is definitely related to cancer research, he said, "since cancer is a genetic disease that causes cells to proliferate in an uncontrolled way."

"The idea is to understand the way cells proliferate in the normal as well as the abnormal way," he said.

Dr. Nathans, 64, was born in Wilmington, Del. He studied chemistry at the University of Delaware, received his medical degree at Washington University in St. Louis and did postdoctoral research at the National Cancer Institute and Rockefeller University.

He is married, has three children and has been at Hopkins since 1962.

The other winners of the National Medal of Science are Alfred Y. Cho, AT&T Bell Laboratories; Donald J. Cram, University of California Los Angeles; Val L. Fitch, Princeton University; Norman Hackerman, Robert A. Welch Foundation; Martin D. Kruskal, Rutgers University; Vera C. Rubin, Carnegie Institution of Washington; Salome G. Waelsch, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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