Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Archives - NFCR

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

The Full Story of Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi

Learn About the Vitamin-C Studying, Nobel-Prize Winning Co-Founder of NFCR

The Europe Years

Born in Budapest, Hungary on September 16, 1893, Albert Szent-Györgyi’s early life was filled with studying and interrupted by war. Szent-Györgyi was a medical student at the University of Budapest in 1911 and, during his studies, left to fight in World War I.  He was awarded the Silver Medal for Valour and was discharged after being wounded in action. He returned to medical school and graduated in 1917 as a doctor of medicine.

Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi Google Doodle


On September 16, 2011, which would have been Albert Szent-Gyorgyi’s 118th Birthday, Google featured his accomplishments with a Google Doodle.

He studied, worked and taught in labs in Prague, Berlin, Leiden, Hamburg and Cambridge in the 1920s and 1930s. Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s early research was focused on the chemistry of cell respiration.

Dr. Szent-Györgyi was a pioneer and, like many explorers, he challenged the conventional thinking of the day to pursue his novel and promising ideas. He won the Nobel Prize for his study of vitamin C and cell respiration in 1937.

Coming to America

Dr. Szent-Györgyi was a Visiting Professor at Harvard University in 1936 and, earlier, conducted research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, but he spent the years during World War II in Europe. As World War II approached and fascists gained control of the Hungarian government, Dr. Szent-Györgyi helped Jewish friends flee the country. It is alleged Adolf Hitler personally ordered Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s arrest and, for part of the war, he was hiding from the Gestapo.

Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi in the labAfter the war ended, he returned to University of Budapest to establish a laboratory and was elected to the Hungarian parliament. However, his opposition to the communist influence in Budapest led to his emigration to the United States in 1947 where he founded the Institute for Muscle Research at Woods Hole Marine Laboratory in Massachusetts.

Cancer Research and Accolades

1971 Szent-Gyorgyi - Salisbury letter

Text of a letter from Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi to Frank Salisbury, after Salisbury made a donation to Dr. Szent-Györgyis research before they partnered on NFCR.

In the late 1950s, Dr. Szent-Györgyi developed a research interest in the biochemistry of cancer. And after meeting Franklin Salisbury, in 1973, they co-founded the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR). Since then, NFCR has provided more than $340 million in support of cancer research and prevention education programs.

Dr. Szent-Györgyi was a member of many scientific societies in different countries and received many honors, in addition to the Nobel Prize, including the Cameron Prize of Edinburgh University in 1946 and the Lasker Award in 1954.  He wrote ten books, including On Oxidation, Fermentation, Vitamins, Health and Disease (1939), Chemistry of Muscular Contraction (1947), Chemical Physiology of Contraction in Body and Heart Muscle (1953) and Bioenergetics (1957).

Dr. Szent-Györgyi passed away on October 22, 1986 of kidney failure at his home in Massachusetts. Through NFCR, his work continues to help individuals throughout the world.

Franklin Salisbury and Dr. Albert von Szent-Györgyi in 1982

Franklin Salisbury and Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi in 1982

The Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize

The Albert Szent-Györgyi PrizeNFCR is committed to upholding Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s vision of curing cancer through innovation and collaboration. As part of this commitment, NFCR has established this prize to honor scientists who have made extraordinary progress in cancer research and to focus attention on the essential role of basic research in finding the still elusive answers to the mysteries of cancer.

The Szent-Györgyi Prize serves to stimulate the quest for continued investment in the pioneering research that will produce scientific breakthroughs and lead to a deeper understanding of the scientific concepts behind the genetics and molecular makeup of cancer. By calling attention annually to achievements in this area, it is our desire to heighten awareness of the kind of research and discovery that must be accomplished
before we can hope to produce cancer cures.

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WE ARE THE HERETICS: Sequence that cancer!

WE ARE THE HERETICS:  Sequence that cancer!

Heretic: someone who believes or teaches something that goes against accepted or official beliefs

Here’s an important question: Did your friend’s oncologists sequence their cancer?

You’ve heard a lot about targeted cancer therapies recently.  This is all about molecular profiling, i.e., identifying genetic mutations on a cancer that tell the cell how much and how fast to grow. Sometimes the cancer cells have too many copies of these genes with abnormalities. When there are too many copies of these genes, doctors refer to it as “overexpression.” With some forms of gene overexpression, cancer cells will make too many of the proteins that control cell growth and division, causing the cancer to grow and spread.

An example of this is how some cancer cells make (overexpress) too many copies of a particular gene known as HER2. The HER2 gene makes a protein known as a HER2 receptor. HER2 receptors are like ears, or antennae, on the surface of all cells. These HER2 receptors receive signals that stimulate the cell to grow and multiply. But cancer cells with too many HER2 receptors can pick up too many growth signals and so start growing and multiplying too much and too fast. Cancer cells that overexpress the HER2 gene are said to be HER2-positive.

Herceptin works by attaching itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of cancer cells and blocking them from receiving growth signals. By blocking the signals, Herceptin can slow or stop the growth of cancers that express the HER2 molecule. Herceptin is an example of an immune targeted therapy. In addition to blocking HER2 receptors, Herceptin can also help fight cancer by alerting the immune system to destroy cancer cells onto which it is attached.

Notice I didn’t say anything about breast cancer.  Or lung cancer.

21st Century cancer treatments don’t have anything to do with where the cancers are located.  Even though the FDA approved Herceptin as a breast cancer treatment, Herceptin has nothing to do with breast cancer.  Herceptin targets the HER2 molecule and it will work on any cancer that expresses the HER2 growth factor receptor.   Many lung cancer patient’s cancers express another growth factor receptor, the so-called Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) mutation. And while not all lung cancers carry the EGFR mutation, those that do are sensitive to two drugs that target the EGFR enzyme: Genentech’s Tarceva, and AstraZeneca’s Iressa.

A raft of clinical trials are under way exploring how to capitalize on these findings. Most of them are using Tarceva or Iressa in combination with different chemotherapeutic agents. We have identified 400+ unique genes known to play a role in the initiation and progression of many different cancers, and we are making new discoveries about the significance of these changes almost every day.

For patients and healthcare professionals, genomic insights are helping to transform the way cancer is treated. One-size-fits-all treatment approaches are being replaced by more targeted, personalized approaches. And for certain types of cancer, we can now identify specific genetic and genomic drivers of an individual patient’s disease.

By sequencing your friend’s cancer, the oncologists will have access to genetic and genomic information to match the cancer with a cancer treatment designed to target their specific cancer.  NFCR has funded the scientists who are making all this happen. I am working closely with Dan Von Hoff, co-founder of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) who developed Tarceva; with Dan Haber who is Director of the MGH Cancer Center, and with Raju Kucherlapati, first Scientific Director of the Harvard Medical School-Partners Healthcare Center for Genetics and Genomics.

I ask you about whether your friend’s oncologist had sequenced his tumor?

There are new companies and tests emerging that can rapidly turnaround fast answers to a large array of questions.

(adopted from a letter by NFCR CEO Franklin Salisbury June 2016, after the Albert Szent Gyorgyi prize was awarded to Mary Claire King, PhD.)

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The First Successful Clinical Trial

Clinical Trial and translational medicine. Our CEO and son of the Founder of NFCR likes to talk history. Franklin C. Salisbury, Jr. notes the coincidence, perhaps, that the Salisbury name has long been associated with unheralded basic research that leads to major breakthroughs. Clinical trial and translational medicine –  bring work from lab to patient bedside and is not really a new trend.

HMS Salisbury site of first clinical trialThe HMS Salisbury was a 50 gun British Warship, built at East Cowes, Isle of Wight and launched  on January 29, 1746.  James Lind was the Royal Navy surgeon who studied treatments for scurvy “on board the Salisbury at sea” in 1747.1747 year of the first ever clinical trial

We all remember the story that lemons and oranges cured scurvy and was discovered aboard a navy vessel  but who besides our Franklin would think to connect HMS Salisbury with clinical trials done today. And yet, the comparison is an important one.

The Salisbury  was said to have some 30-40 members of the crew afflicted by scurvy.  “Yet the roll call shows at most one or two as sick during this entire voyage on which six men “departed this life”. This suggests a culture of official denial of sickness at sea, one of many possible reasons, perhaps, why Lind’s work was neglected says Graham Sutton in his essay James Lind aboard Salisbury (Sutton G (2004) James Lind aboard Salisbury)

Official Denial is an interesting phrase. One perhaps that has a place today in our world of blockbuster breakthroughs.There is an interesting bridge between Salisbury, Scurvy, Citrus, Vitamin C and the cancer research supported by NFCR. That connection is Albert Szent-Györgyi.

He was the co-founder of NFCR along with Franklin Salisbury’s dad. Szent-Györgyi was credited with discovering Vitamin C and received the Nobel Prize in 1937. He went on to state his belief that” Cancer is a disease that can be cured,” and the rest is history. For more than 43 years NFCR has been supporting basic lab research into the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer.  The Albert Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research is named in honor of Doctor Albert Szent-Györgyi and is a symbol of NFCR’s enduring commitment to uphold Dr. Szent-Györgyi’s vision of curing cancer through innovation and collaboration.

NFCR funded scientists can attest to the need for long term support of basic research. Today’s breakthroughs are often the result of decades of meticulous work built on the work of previous generations. Clinical trial make a difference.   The two men on board the Salisbury that were assigned to the citrus fruit treatment recovered. So too is our hope that those who participate in today’s clinical trials are the lucky ones.


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