June 12, 1998

Investigator honored for co-invention of new gene-identification device

A Vanderbilt Cancer Center scientist was recently honored with the 1998 Molecular Bioanalytics Prize for co-inventing a powerful new tool to identify and isolate genes called differential display.

Peng Liang, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cell Biology, and his mentor, Arthur B. Pardee, Ph.D., chief of the Cell Growth and Regulation Division at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University, received the prize during the Analytica Conference in Munich, Germany in April.

The two scientists developed the technique in 1992 while Liang was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard. They reported the approach in the journal Science that year, and patented the methodology the following year.

Differential display allows scientists to identify and study a small fraction of genes that cause one cell to be different from another. Since its development, differential display has become the favored method to clone differentially expressed genes and has been cited in more than 1,500 scientific publications in many different fields.

Liang, who joined the VUMC faculty in 1995, is using the differential display method to zero in on genes regulated by two of the cellular "master switches" involved in tumor development. He and his colleagues are studying the oncogene RAS and the tumor suppressor gene p53, which are mutated in a wide number of cancers.

The Molecular Bioanalytics Prize is given by the German Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and sponsored by Boehringer Mannheim for outstanding work in molecular bioanalytics. Past recipients include the developers of modern DNA sequencing, the developers of monoclonal antibodies, the developers of the "Southern blot" technique for DNA hybridization, the developers of the PCR technique and the developers of gene targeting or gene knock-out methodology.