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Stem cell pioneer receives 2003 Frank Annunzio Award

October 13, 2003 By Terry Devitt

James Thomson, the UW–Madison scientist who was the first to isolate and culture human embryonic stem cells five years ago, has been named the recipient of the 2003 Frank Annunzio Award from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, an independent federal government agency.

Annunzio Awards are presented annually to living Americans for improving the world through ingenuity and innovation, and are intended to provide incentive for continuing research or a specific project.

“The Frank Annunzio Award is designed to recognize the innovative work or research of Americans who devote their careers to improving the lives of countless people through their work in science and technology,” says Robert J. Glovitz, chair of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation. “Dr. Thomson’s research is so fundamental to the future of disease treatment and cure, and its potential effects so enormous, that we cannot even contemplate the future benefits that will result from his work.”

Past awards have been given to such luminaries as HIV researcher Anthony Fauci; laser inventor Charles Hard Townes; and John J. Wild, who first devised techniques for the use of ultrasound for medical diagnosis and assessment.

“I am very appreciative of the recognition of the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation,” says Thomson, who conducts much of his research at the National Primate Research Center here. “It is an honor to be in such prestigious company, and to be cited by an organization dedicated to improving the human condition.”

Thomson received his $50,000 award at an Oct. 13 luncheon in Washington, D.C. following the annual celebration in honor of Christopher Columbus.

In recognizing Thomson, the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation cited his work to understand the “mechanisms of embryonic stem cell self-renewal.”

Thomson, the UW–Madison John D. McArthur professor of anatomy, is internationally known for his work with human embryonic stem cells, blank slate cells that arise at the earliest stages of development and are capable of becoming any of the 220 types of cells and tissues in the body. The work holds great promise for a better understanding of human development and may have significant implications for transplant medicine as the cells could become an inexhaustible source of cells and tissue for transplant.

The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation is an independent federal government agency established by Congress in 1992 to encourage and support research, scholarship and efforts leading to discoveries that could benefit society. It is governed by a presidential-appointed board of trustees.

The Frank Annunzio Award is named for the late congressman from Illinois. It is given in recognition of the “visionary spirit and pioneering heritage of Christopher Columbus.”

Tags: stem cells