Thompson honored
as ‘exemplary scientist’
in cancer biology

Published April 01 2019

Craig Thompson

“I am honored to receive this recognition from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and to be recognized among those who have previously won this award. I wish to thank the Vallee Foundation for their commitment to championing basic biomedical science, and the Society for recognizing my lab’s work on cancer metabolism.”

— Craig Thompson

Craig B. Thompson, president and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is the recipient of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2019 Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science. The award honors an established scientist for outstanding accomplishments in basic biomedical research. Thompson’s lab focuses on studying cancer cell metabolism.

Thompson is a pioneer in the field of cancer biology. His findings have challenged existing notions about mammalian cell metabolism and its regulation. Contrary to earlier findings that mammalian cells take up nutrients autonomously, Thompson demonstrated that growth factor signaling is essential for glucose and amino acid uptake by cells for ATP synthesis. Without growth factors and hormones, cells ultimately undergo apoptosis. However, oncogenic transformation of mammalian cells alters the regulation of cellular metabolism. Due to activation of the oncogene Myc, cancer cells switch to using glutamine instead of glucose as an energy source. This allows glucose metabolites to be directed to nucleotide synthesis, which aids in uncontrolled cell proliferation.

Thompson’s group showed how mutations in genes coding for metabolic enzymes lead to several forms of cancer. Over the years, his work has established beautifully how cellular metabolism regulates signal transduction and gene expression and how oncogenic transformation alters these mechanisms. He also has contributed to the development of treatment for autoimmune diseases.

Joan Massagué, director of the Sloan Kettering Institute, nominated Thompson for the award. “Dr. Thompson’s research elucidating cancer cell metabolism is pioneering, visionary and of outstanding quality,” Massagué wrote in his nomination letter. “He has established a reputation as one of the most thoughtful and accomplished investigators in the field of cancer research.”

Thompson received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Dartmouth College in 1974, followed by a medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. He served as medical officer at the Naval Blood Research Institute and National Naval Medical Center before being appointed an assistant professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan. He went on to become a professor in the departments of medicine and molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and then a professor and chair of the department of cancer biology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, he was appointed president and CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Thompson has co-authored more than 400 peer-reviewed articles, has been cited more than 93,000 times and holds 30 patents. He also serves in leadership positions at various scientific organizations.

As the Vallee award recognizes outstanding achievements in sciences basic to medicine, Thompson fits the bill as a “champion of cancer research,” Massagué wrote in his nomination letter.

Thompson will receive his award during the ASBMB annual meeting at the Experimental Biology 2019 conference in Orlando, where he will deliver an award lecture titled “The role of metabolites in regulating cellular differentiation and gene expression” at 1:15 p.m. April 8 in Valencia Ballroom A at the Orange County Convention Center.

Isha Dey Isha Dey is a scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific in India.