Whitehead Members Peter S. Kim and Robert A. Weinberg Elected to the Institute of Medicine

October 19, 2000

Tags: Weinberg LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  — Whitehead members Peter S. Kim and Robert A. Weinberg are among the sixty new members elected this year to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a unit of the National Academy of Sciences. New members are elected based on their major contributions to health and medicine. Kim and Weinberg join Whitehead members Gerald R. Fink and Eric S. Lander, who are current members of the IOM.

Kim, who is also a Professor of Biology at MIT and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is a pioneer in structural biology and has made major contributions to the field of AIDS research. Three years ago, the Kim lab identified a vulnerable "pocket" on the HIV coat as a good drug target. Last year, using their expertise in protein folding and design, the Kim lab recreated the pocket in the laboratory. With the pocket structure in hand, the researchers achieved a major breakthrough in the search for a new class of oral drugs to treat HIV infection. They identified a class of compounds that prevents HIV infection by stopping the virus at its port of entry into the cell. These drugs lock into the pockets on HIV's coat, thereby preventing it from fusing with the cell membrane and entering a host cell. The Kim lab is also pursuing research avenues toward the creation of HIV vaccine candidates.

Weinberg, winner of the 1997 National Medal of Science and also a Professor of Biology at MIT, has been a leader in the fight against cancer. His identification of the first oncogene and first tumor suppressor gene has laid the groundwork for cancer genetics. For years, cancer biologists have relied on a method developed in the Weinberg lab to generate cancerous rodent cells in the lab. Last summer, the field of cancer research changed dramatically when researchers from the Weinberg lab extended their findings to human cells— for the first time, normal human cells could be transformed into cancer cells. Using his recently acquired ability to transform human cells, Weinberg is developing models of how actual human tumors form in the body. His research encompasses all stages of tumor development, including how tumors acquire the supply lines for nourishment through the growth of blood vessels (angiogenesis) and how tumor cells acquire the ability to migrate to distant sites in the body (metastasis). Another important component of his research involves elucidating the role of the enzyme telomerase in allowing cancer cells to grow and divide indefinitely.

Established in 1970 as a unit of the National Academy of Sciences, the IOM is broadly based in the biomedical sciences and health professions, including related aspects such as social and behavioral sciences, law, administration, and economics.

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