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Professor Ashok Venkitaraman has been awarded the 2017 Basser Global Prize from the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, in recognition of his contributions to research into the genetics of cancer.

The award particularly recognises his laboratory work in explaining how mutations in the breast cancer gene, BRCA2, predispose to cancer and how knowledge of its critical role in genome repair can be exploited to devise approaches for early intervention in cancers. 

Each year the Basser Global Prize is awarded to a leading scientist who has conceptually advanced breast cancer gene, BRCA1/2-related research that has led to improvements in clinical care. Individuals with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have an exceptionally high risk of breast or ovarian cancer. Currently, the most effective preventive strategy is surgical removal of the breasts and/or ovaries.

Professor Venkitaraman’s laboratory discovered that BRCA2 plays a critical role in repairing the human genome, and has been instrumental in showing how mutations in BRCA2 incite genome instability, accelerating cancer development. This work has provided the scientific basis for assessing cancer risk in people who carry different BRCA2 mutations, and for new treatments for cancers arising in these patients.

Professor Venkitaraman’s current research focuses on deeper understanding of how cancer is initiated in patients with BRCA2 mutations, in an effort to identify new opportunities for early, non-invasive intervention. His laboratory recently uncovered how certain chemicals found in the environment or made in the body can trigger genome instability in cells carrying mutant BRCA2. His team is now exploiting this discovery to devise future approaches for cancer prevention and treatment.

“It is our privilege to recognize Dr. Venkitaraman for his inspiring accomplishments, which have significantly contributed to our understanding of how cancer is suppressed by genes such as BRCA2,” said Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA and the Basser Professor of Medicine in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center.

“His pioneering work has helped clarify the basic mechanisms that govern genome repair, replication, and segregation during cell division, as well as their roles in cancer formation and treatment.  This knowledge is making a difference for patients with BRCA1/2 mutations by giving them better options for targeted therapies and improved quality of life.”

The award presentation will be accompanied by Professor Venkitaraman’s keynote address at the annual Basser Center for BRCA Scientific Symposium on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. The Basser Global Prize provides $100,000 in unrestricted support of the winner's BRCA1/2-related research efforts, a Basser trophy, and $10,000 cash prize, which will be awarded at the symposium.

“It is an honour to be recognized in this way by the Basser Center, which is at the forefront of efforts to improve the outcome of patients who bear BRCA1/2 mutations,” Professor Venkitaraman said. “The Basser Global Prize will greatly enhance my laboratory’s ability to pursue promising new research avenues.”

The Basser Center was established in 2012 through a $25 million gift from Penn alumni Mindy and Jon Gray in memory of Mindy Gray’s sister Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44. The Basser Global Prize was established and subsequently endowed by Shari Basser Potter and Leonard Potter.


Date awarded

28 November 2017

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Professor Ashok Venkitaraman