ASBMB Nobel Prize Winners

1989 – Harold E. Varmus



Harold Elliot Varmus (1939 - present) was awarded half of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes, which are genes that code for proteins that increase the malignancy of tumor cells. Working with fellow Nobel Laureate J. Michael Bishop, Varmus found that, under certain circumstances, normal genes in healthy cells can cause cancer. The scientists showed that these oncogenes normally control cellular growth and division, but, if they are picked up by infecting viruses or affected by certain chemicals, they can cause cancer. This research superseded a theory that cancer is caused by viral genes that are different from a cell's normal genetic material and lie dormant in the cell until activated by a cancer-causing agent.