Cancer researcher honored

December 11, 2008 8:25:58 AM PST
A woman who helped change the lives of women everywhere has been bestowed with a big honor. Her work led to a big breakthrough in the battle against breast and ovarian cancer. That woman is Dr. Susan Band Horwitz, a science researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her work has made the difference between life and death for millions of patients. They're mostly women, because Dr. Horwitz's work led to a mainline treatment for breast and ovarian cancer...and an award.

It's a medical research lab like many others in city, but this one is unique. It's where Dr. Susan Horwitz worked to untie the twisted knot of how the cancer drug Taxol works. It's research that has led to the life-saving use of the drug in women with breast and ovarian cancer. Horwitz was recently honored by the American Cancer Society with its Medal of Honor for that work, on the drug first found in the bark of the yew tree.

"It's a structure that only a tree would make," Dr. Horwitz said. "No chemist would sit down and say, 'I'm going to synthesize Taxol.'...I hoped it would actually have a new mechanism of action to help people who had malignancies."

It did. After her work in the late 70s on the new chemical, the National Cancer Institute tried it in patients with cancer, with dramatic results.

"In the large clinical trials, what we saw was a 50 percent improvement in the length of time that was disease free," Dr. Gloria Huang said.

The research uncovered the fascinating way Taxol works.

Dr. Horwitz discovered that Taxol blocks the normal movement of the cancer cell's internal microskeleton. If that microskeleton can't move, the cancer cell can't grow.

Dr. Horwitz is quite modest about her discovery and gives credit to those she works with. And as with most scientists, her work is not about winning accolades and awards.

"I'm very fortunate the drug that I chose to work with has been helpful to people," she said. "It gives me a wonderful feeling."

Taxol is used to treat not only breast and ovarian cancers, but a particular type of lung cancer called small cell lung cancer. Dr. Horwitz's current work is on why drugs like Taxol work for some cancers and not others.

For more detail on Susan's work with Taxol, visit Aecom.yu.edu/home/news.asp?id=262.

And for a link to an audio interview conducted by Paul Moniz) with Dr. Horwitz and the other ACS Medal of Honor winner, Dr. Mina Bissell, CLICK HERE.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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