Harold E. Varmus
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1989
Born: 18 December 1939, Oceanside, NY, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, CA, USA
Prize motivation: “for their discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes”
Prize share: 1/2
The growth, division, and death of living cells are regulated by their genes. If these functions are out of balance, tumors can form. One reason for this may be the incorporation of virus genes into the genes of host cells. In the mid-1970s, Harold Varmus and Michael Bishop discovered virus genes that can cause cancer. However, they also found that these so-called oncogenes did not originally come from the virus, but from normal cells, and that these had been incorporated into the virus. Cancer can thereby occur through the activation of the organism's own genes–through a mutation, for example.