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The one hundred honoree: Paul C. Zamecnik, MD

Innovation Story

The one hundred honoree: Paul C. Zamecnik, MD

Mass General Giving

Dr. Paul Zamecnik is a senior scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Collis P. Huntington Professor of Oncologic Medicine, Emeritus, at Harvard Medical School. He pioneered the in-vitro synthesis of proteins and helped elucidate how cells generate proteins. He co-discovered transfer RNA, the molecule that decodes the DNA information within a protein, which had been predicted by Francis Crick, the Nobelist who deduced the structure of DNA.

In 1978, Dr. Zamecnik devised a strand of synthetic DNA that blocked the Rous sarcoma virus, which causes cancer in chickens, from copying itself. Since this breakthrough, drug companies have been striving to devise synthetic antisense strands that block genetic signals that cause protein-related diseases before they occur in the cell. The approach holds great promise in the treatment of cancers and many other disorders.

When he received the first-ever Albert Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science in 1996, Dr. Zamecnik was cited for “brilliant and original science that revolutionized biochemistry and created an entirely new field of scientific inquiry.”

A pioneer of RNA research in the 1950’s, Dr. Zamecnik, now in his nineties, continues to run a successfully funded and productive research laboratory at MGH, with the able collaboration of his daughter Karen Z. Pierson.