Dr. Szent-Györgyi Archives - NFCR

Dr. Szent-Györgyi

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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The Man Who Halted the Growth of Tumors: Dr. Harold F. Dvorak

ASG Winners: Then & Now

The Szent-Györgyi Prize was established in honor of Nobel laureate Dr. Albert Szent-Györgyi, co-founder of NFCR, to recognize outstanding scientific achievement in the war against cancer. Ten years later, “ASG Winners: Then & Now” looks at these winners, their extraordinary contributions and how their discoveries have made possible new approaches to treating cancer.

Dr. Harold F. Dvorak

Dr. Harold F. Dvorak at the ASG Ceremony in 2006

The first winner of the Szent-Györgyi Prize was Harold F. Dvorak, MD, distinguished Mallinkrodt Professor of Pathology Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and former chief of the Department of Pathology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. In 1983, Dr. Dvorak was the first to demonstrate that tumor cells secrete a vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), known at the time as vascular permeability factor or VPF. Dr. Dvorak’s seminal discovery provided the molecular basis for the field of angiogenesis and helped pave the way for researchers to develop anti-angiogenesis treatments to halt and even reverse tumor growth. Today, anti-cancer therapies that work by inhibiting angiogenesis are among the most promising new approaches to treating cancer.

What is Angiogenesis?

Like all living tissues, tumors need a steady supply of blood to survive. Blood vessel formation, or “angiogenesis,” makes it possible for tumors to grow and spread. If cancer researchers knew the mechanisms by which tumors acquire additional blood vessels, they might discover new strategies to block this process and literally starve tumors to keep them from growing.

Dr. Dvorak’s Discovery of VEGF

Dr. Harold F. Dvorak in the laboratory

While conducting research supported by NFCR, Dr. Dvorak discovered that cancerous tumors make and secrete VEGF. This was how tumors acquire and form new blood vessels. VEGF is the way tumors grow and spread. Tumors differ from healing wounds: As soon a wound is healed, VEGF production is turned off abruptly. Tumors, on the other hand, continue to make large amounts of VEGF. This, in essence, keeps the VEGF Production in an “on position” so that cancer cells grow and spread. This explained how malignant tumors differed from those of normal tissue in both structure and function. “Hal Dvorak’s contributions to the field of cancer research are legendary,” says NFCR President, Sujuan Ba, PhD. Dr. Dvorak’s groundbreaking discovery has changed the face of cancer research and led to the development of VEGF-targeting anti-angiogenic drugs such as bevacizumab or Avastin®. In 2004, Avastin was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of colorectal cancer.

Today’s Impact

The 2006 ASG Prize Selection Committee Chairman, Daniel Von Hoff, MD, now Director of Translational Research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona, said, “Without Dr. Dvorak’s fundame

(From left to right) Dr. Daniel Von Hoff,
Dr. Harold F. Dvorak and Dr. Sujuan Ba
at the ASG Ceremony in 2006

ntal discovery we would probably not have had the therapeutic agent Avastin (bevacizumab), which has had a tremendous impact on improving survival for patients with advanced colorectal cancer, breast cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and renal cell carcinoma. In addition, other small molecules which inhibit VEGF have also shown outstanding clinical antitumor activity with dramatic therapeutic effects for patients worldwide.” Today in the U.S., in addition to colorectal cancer, Avastin is FDA-approved for treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, the aggressive brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and certain types of cervical and ovarian cancers.  More than 280 clinical trials are currently investigating the use of this particular anti-VEGF agent in over 50 tumor types.

Recent Blood Vessel Research

Dr. Dvorak’s recent research projects have led to the identification and characterization of at least six different kinds of blood vessels in tumors. While current anti-angiogenic therapies primarily act against only one of them, his latest discoveries provide opportunities for new types of treatments. His research group has already discovered the new therapeutic targets on the other five vessel types and they are aiming to improve the effectiveness of anti-angiogenic therapy by attacking the entire tumor environment. “Dr. Dvorak’s initial discovery helped to take cancer investigations in a whole new direction,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, MD, the 21st Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Harvard University, “an endeavor he continues to this day.”

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