ON NOVEMBER 24, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL confers its 2014 Warren Triennial Prize on Bert Vogelstein. The honor, awarded once every three years, recognizes a scientist who has made a landmark contribution to medical research.

Vogelstein, a professor of oncology and pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was cited for his groundbreaking research in cancer genetics that has catalyzed new approaches to fighting the growth of malignant tumors. In early investigations of the molecular changes leading to colorectal cancer, his lab discovered that the human TP53 gene, previously thought to be an oncogene that promotes cancer growth, actual serves to suppress it. Such suppressor genes serve as a kind of molecular braking mechanism to control cancer’s runaway cell division.

After that discovery, Vogelstein’s research team demonstrated that mutations in TP53 are implicated not only in colon cancer, but are also one of the most common genetic mutations found in all kinds of cancer. These findings sparked a wave of discovery in cancer research, and uncovered 20,000 distinct mutations of TP53 in a variety of human cancers. Vogelstein has gone on to investigate additional genes involved in colon cancer such as APC, mutations of which lead to colorectal tumors, and PIK3CA, whose mutations turn benign tumors malignant. Currently, Vogelstein is focusing on new, minimally invasive techniques for the early diagnosis of cancer based on his previous findings, and therapeutic approaches that apply what researchers now know about cancer biology.

The Warren Triennial Prize has a proud track record of its own. Established in 1871, the award was named after surgeon John Collins Warren, a co-founder of MGH who also performed the landmark surgical procedure during which ether anesthesia was first successfully demonstrated. Since then, 23 award winners have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. The winner of Warren prize receives $50,000 and the Warren Medallion.