APPLYING the basic sciences to human disease has been a hallmark of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine since it opened its doors in 1893. The school was the first to give doctors the luxury of being paid to do medical research, producing a long list of Hopkins "firsts" that helped revolutionize the practice of medicine.
The fruits of that policy were on display again last month when Hopkins molecular biologist Daniel Nathans was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Clinton at a White House ceremony. The medal is the highest science award in the United States, and Dr. Nathans was one of eight winners of the award this year. The prize was given in recognition of Dr. Nathan's scientific work and for his contributions to science outside the laboratory, especially his work on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
Dr. Nathans and fellow Hopkins researcher Hamilton Smith won the 1978 Nobel Prize in Medicine, shared with Werner Arber of Switzerland, for finding and using restriction enzymes to divide DNA molecules at specific locations. Their discovery helped launch the field of recombinant DNA and genetic engineering, and may one day allow physicians to remove, replace or repair genes before they can cause such problems as cancer or diabetes.
Before receiving the award, Dr. Nathans said it was a thrill even for someone who has won a Nobel Prize. "I am really quite honored to win the National Medal of Science," he said. He is now studying the workings of genes that determine how cells grow and divide. "We are trying to determine what these genes are and how they act," he said. The work could have important consequences for cancer research, since cancer is also a genetic disease that causes cells to proliferate in an uncontrolled way.
We salute Dr. Nathans for carrying on the proud tradition that has made the Hopkins one of the world's foremost centers of medical research.