The work: Blood vessels are the part of the circulatory system that transports blood throughout the body and also play a vital role in virtually every medical condition. In 1983, Dr. Dvorak reported a tumour-derived protein that caused the cells lining tumor blood vessels to become leaky (hyperpermeable) to circulating molecules. He called the protein vascular permeability factor (VPF). Subsequently, he demonstrated that VPF was also secreted by many normal cells and plays a key role in wound healing and chronic inflammatory diseases. At the same time, Dr. Ferrara noted that cells released a factor that caused cells to divide. This factor stimulated the production of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels (angiogenesis). In 1989, Dr. Ferrara reported for the first time the isolation and sequencing of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) which, after testing, ended up being the exact same molecule as VPF, and VEGF became its new name.
The impact: Dr. Dvorak’s research demonstrated that most malignant tumors make VEGF, which assists the tumors to grow beyond minimal size by forming new blood vessels and connective tissue support as in wound healing. Dr. Ferrara’s cloning and characterization of VEGF enabled progress in this field. In addition, Dr. Ferrara and his team made key advances in understanding how VEGF was made, how it acted and its role. Importantly, Dr. Ferrara and his colleagues pioneered the clinical development of an inhibiting antibody against VEGF which opened up a new era of cancer therapy because this new approach focused on choking off the blood supply that tumours need in order to grow and spread. These findings also spearheaded the development of an anti-VEGF antibody fragment (ranibizumab) which has shown dramatic efficacy in maintaining and improving vision in wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients.
Dr. Harold F. Dvorak is the founding Director of the Center for Vascular Biology Research (CVBR) at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and the Mallinckrodt Distinguished Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School. In 1983, Dr. Dvorak and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate that tumor cells secreted vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), known at the time as vascular permeability factor or VPF. This seminal discovery provided the molecular basis for the field of angiogenesis. Dr. Dvorak went on to make the critically important observation that tumors behave like “wounds that do not heal” in that the vascular and stromal responses they induce closely mimic those of healing wounds. More recently, his work has characterized the different types of blood vessels that tumors generate and the molecular mechanisms by which they form.
Dr. Dvorak has taught for many years at the Harvard Medical School, and has lectured frequently as a visiting professor and at numerous national and international scientific conferences. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the National Foundation for Cancer Research and has served as President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology which awarded him the 2002 Rous-Whipple award, and, forthcoming in 2013, the Gold-headed cane award for his scientific accomplishments. In 2005 he received the Grand Prix Lefoulon-Delalande from the Institut de France and in 2006 the inaugural Albert Szent-Gyorgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR). Educated at Princeton University and Harvard Medical School, he did a Pathology residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and postdoctoral research at the National Institutes of Health. He has served on the Harvard Medical School faculty since 1967 and at BIDMC since 1979. After stepping down after 26 years as Chair of Pathology at BIDMC in July 2005, Dr. Dvorak focused his efforts on building the CVBR, while at the same time continuing to pursue his research.