Efraim Racker

Scientist and Artist | June 28, 1913 - September 9, 1991
Photo collage of Efraim Racker

The Origins of Cancer

Harold Varmus
General lecture
November 13, 1997,

About the speaker

Harold Varmus

National Institutes of Health

Dr. Harold Varmus was born December 18, 1939. He graduated from Amherst College (B.A. in English literature, 1961); Harvard University (M.A. in English literature, 1962) and Columbia University (M.D. 1966). While at medical school, he worked for three months at a mission hospital in northern India. After an internship and residency in internal medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York, Dr. Varmus served as clinical associate for two years at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases in Bethesda, MD. He came to the University of California at San Francisco as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. J. Michael Bishop in 1970, initiating a longstanding collaboration to study tumor viruses; he was appointed to the faculty later that year. He became a full professor in 1979 and an American Cancer Society Research Professor in 1984. In 1989 he and Dr. Bishop shared a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for demonstrating that cancer genes (oncogenes) can arise from normal cellular genes, called proto-oncogenes.

Dr. Varmus was sworn in as the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on November 23, 1993 and is the first Nobel Laureate to serve as Director of the NIH. He is an internationally recognized authority on retroviruses and the genetic basis of cancer. In recent years, his work has assumed special relevance to AIDS, through a focus on biochemical properties of HIV, and to breast cancer, through investigation of mammary tumors in mice.

Dr. Varmus has served as chairman of the Board of Biology for the National Research Council, an advisor to the Congressional Caucus for Biomedical Research, a member of the Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy of Biomedical Societies, and co-chairman of the New Delegation for Biomedical Research, a coalition of leaders in the biomedical community. He directed “Winding Your Way through DNA,” a popular public symposium on recombinant DNA staged by UCSF last fall.

He is the author or editor of four books and over 300 scientific papers. Dr. Varmus has been elected to the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His most recent book, “Genes and the Biology of Cancer,” intended for a general audience, was co-authored with Robert Weinberg for the Scientific American Library. He is an editor for several professional journals, and has served on a variety of review and advisory boards for government, biotechnology firms, and pharmaceutical companies.