Susan Horwitz Wins Alpert Prize for Taxol Work

The foundation recognises Dr. Horwitz, a molecular pharmacologist, for her seminal contributions to the understanding of how the antitumor agent Taxol inhibits the growth of cancer cells. Her research helped pave the way for studies leading to approval of the plant compound for the treatment of ovarian, breast and lung cancers. The foundation will award Dr. Horwitz a $150,000 prize.

"One thing that Mr. Alpert stipulated when he developed this prize was that it should go to someone who had already made major contributions to helping patients. The impact of Susan's work has been quite extraordinary in the cancer field," said Professor Dominick Purpura, MD, Dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who nominated Dr. Horwitz for the prize.

In the US, Taxol was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of refractory ovarian cancer in 1992. Dr. Horwitz reported that Taxol stabilises microtubules, preventing them from shrinking and therefore blocks the segregation of the chromosomes. It is now known that Taxol perturbs cellular growth at various stages including mitosis, which leads to cellular stress resulting in eventual death. In fact the drug has become a valuable tool in basic cancer research to help delineate the function of microtubules.

Work from Dr. Horwitz's laboratory revealed that Taxol binds specifically to beta-tubulin in the microtubule and causes microtubule bundle formation within the cell. But there are many different types of tubulin in the human body that are expressed in tissue-specific patterns. Today, Dr. Horwitz, who is a past-President of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) (2002-2003), continues her work with Taxol, investigating whether the presence of different forms of tubulin might explain why some cancer cells are more responsive to the drug than others.; Source: Harvard Medical School