Stanley Cohen is the second Vanderbilt University Medical Center professor to win the Nobel Prize; he joined Vanderbilt in 1959 as a professor of biochemistry. The Nobel Prize committee recognized him for his work with Rita Levi-Montalcini in their discovery of nerve growth factor and for his independent discovery and research of epidermal growth factor, a hormone-like protein that stimulates cell growth.
Levi-Montalcini, a developmental biologist, discovered nerve growth factor in the early 1950s while working with Viktor Hamburger at Washington University in St. Louis. She concluded that the tumor released a nerve-growth-promoting factor that affected certain types of cells. Cohen, then a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at Washington University, isolated the nerve growth protein from the salivary glands of the mouse.
After seven years of work at Washington University, Cohen independently continued and expanded his work at Vanderbilt University. His work on epidermal growth factor–which stimulates many different processes in the body including proliferation of cells in the skin, cornea, immune system, liver blood cells, thyroid, ovaries, and pituitary gland–may help scientists understand how to stop cancerous growth. His discoveries on cell growth and multiplication already aid burn victims and hold promise in the areas of senile dementia and muscular dystrophy.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Cohen has been honored with many top medical research awards, including the 1986 National Medal of Science, the 1985 Gairdner Foundation International Award, and the 1986 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which is considered second only to the Nobel Prize.