Thomson Reuters has selected Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., cancer researcher and distinguished professor at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham), as one of its 2012 Citation Laureates. Citation Laureates are scientists that Thomson Reuters has predicted to win the Nobel Prize.
Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates are chosen based on how frequently their research has been cited by other researchers. Many studies have shown a strong correlation between citations and regard by one's peers, a factor often reflected in major professional awards. Using this quantitative approach, Thomson Reuters has made many correct predictions; in the past 10 years, 26 Citation Laureates received Nobel Prizes. The 2012 Nobel Prize recipients will be announced beginning October 8.
Ruoslahti is among the 50 most-cited researchers of the last 20 years and an influential figure in cell biology and cancer research. He was one of the early pioneers in research on cell adhesion-the study of how cells stay in place by sticking to one another and to their surrounding environments. Ruoslahti's work has clarified many of the fundamental mechanisms responsible for clinically relevant problems, including blood clotting, immune cell homing, and tumor metastasis. His research spawned many drug-discovery programs around the world aimed at finding new treatments for arterial restenosis, thrombosis, cancer, and more-some of which have resulted in FDA-approved drugs.
In addition to his research, Ruoslahti distinguished himself through the leadership and vision he provided during his 13 years as president and chief executive officer of Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (1989-2002). Under his direction, Sanford-Burnham's National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center became one of the leading basic cancer research centers in the world.
"Dr. Ruoslahti's seminal research has made outstanding and vitally important contributions to the study of cancer and other diseases that will serve medicine well into the future," said Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., who completed her postdoctoral training under Ruoslahti's mentorship and now serves as Sanford-Burnham's president and director of the Institute's NCI-designated Cancer Center. "It is testimony to Dr. Ruoslahti's special talents that he has been able to perform cutting-edge research, while running and building a world-class research Institute-an accomplishment matched by few individuals. He is most deserving of the honor of being named Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate."
From basic biology to nanotechnology
In the early 1970s, Ruoslahti co-discovered fibronectin, one of the first known extracellular matrix proteins, a family of proteins that make up connective tissues and influence cellular growth, movement, and communication. Ruoslahti then pinpointed the short region of the fibronectin protein and other adhesive proteins that allows them to attach to cells-a string of just three amino acids known as RGD. He and his team also isolated the proteins on cell surfaces that bind fibronectin via RGD. These receptors later became known as integrins.
As a result of Ruoslahti's work, two FDA-approved drugs based on RGD have come to the market. By inhibiting integrin activity with RGD mimics, these therapies prevent reoccurrence of blocked blood vessels following angioplasty, a procedure to widen arteries obstructed by cholesterol and inflammation (atherosclerosis). A number of additional RGD-based therapeutic drugs are currently in clinical trials for cancer.