Investigative Instincts Guided Vogelstein's Journey of Discovery

Published: Friday, Sep 12, 2014

Bert Vogelstein, MD

Bert Vogelstein had no idea that a young girl would start him on a journey that would forever change humanity’s understanding of cancer. He was an intern fresh out of medical school when the girl’s parents brought their daughter to Johns Hopkins to find out why she’d grown so pale and started bruising so easily. The tests revealed cancer. When Vogelstein delivered the news to the stunned parents, they asked how and why a preteen could develop cancer.

Vogelstein has published more than 450 papers since 1976, and those papers have been cited more than 200,000 times—a tally that illustrates their incredible impact. Vogelstein’s work not only launched a wave of genetic research around the globe, but also helped lay the groundwork for today’s era of targeted assays and therapeutics.

Choosing a Path

Vogelstein was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1949 and raised in the city, which then, as now, saw much of its scholarly life dominated by the various arms of Johns Hopkins University.

“I still had to decide whether I should continue to see patients and practice medicine, or devote all of my energies to research, so I tried doing both,” he said. “I found myself during the days seeing patients and during the nights going to the lab and trying to do a little bit of research. And I found at night I was really happy. I felt stimulated. I couldn’t wait to get to the lab at night so I could start experiments.”

The Tumor Suppressor Gene Theory

Vogelstein’s is one of the great careers in medical research—and it nearly ended before it began. The first two grant proposals he ever submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were rejected.
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