This afternoon, Barry S. Coller, MD, of The Rockefeller University and Joel S. Bennett, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania will give the 2010 Ernest Beutler Lecture — “From the Mechanism of Platelet Aggregation to the First Rationally Designed Antiplatelet Agent.” This lectureship and award, named for the late physician-scientist Ernest Beutler, is presented to two individuals and is intended to recognize major advances related to a single topic. Together the achievements of Drs. Coller and Bennett have enabled advances in basic and clinical science as well as translational applications. Dr. Coller will discuss the development of αIIβ3 antagonists, while Dr. Bennett will address the discovery of the platelet fibrinogen receptor and subsequent elucidation of its structure and function.
Medicine was a natural choice for both Drs. Coller and Bennett but for different reasons. Growing up in a family of lawyers and physicians, Dr. Coller was inspired by his uncle, a distinguished surgeon and scholar of medical history, and his father-in-law, a pioneer in the field of allergic diseases. Dr. Bennett stumbled into medicine in a less direct way. “I initially thought I would be an engineer like my father, but after a year, I found it too dry and transferred to liberal arts. I found that I liked biology and chemistry, and medicine provided the opportunity to apply both,” Dr. Bennett said.
Starting out in internal medicine, Drs. Coller and Bennett both decided on hematology toward the end of their respective trainings. “Hematology was the right choice for my career; maybe that is the reason I adopted it or that it adopted me when I was an intern,” Dr. Bennett said. “It is a great subspecialty with a strong scientific and intellectual basis.” In his fourth year of medical school, Dr. Coller encountered a patient that sparked his interest in hematology research. “I loved patients, and I loved dealing with and trying to help people,” Dr. Coller said. “But, I also started to have a sense of the power of science to help a larger number of people.”
Although their careers have evolved over time, certain moments stand out. “I had a flash of intuition that I will never forget and that was responsible for the direction of my career,” Dr. Bennett said. He was working in the lab he shared with Sandy Shattil when Bob Colman asked him if he thought that fibrinogen might affect the binding of an affinity label he and his colleagues were using to try to identify the platelet ADP receptor. “I said no, but at the same time I thought to myself, ‘I know what fibrinogen does to support platelet aggregation; it binds to the platelet fibrinogen receptor,’” Dr. Bennett said. “I literally have no idea why I thought that. I had never consciously thought about why fibrinogen was needed for platelet aggregation before.” Not only did Dr. Bennett and his colleagues devise a method for measuring specific fibrinogen binding to platelets, but it was the only time in Dr. Bennett’s career that an experiment worked perfectly the first time.
For Dr. Coller, a memorable moment took place during lunch one day when someone told him about monoclonal antibodies. “I knew immediately what I wanted to do,” Dr. Coller said. Within a year Dr. Coller’s team successfully blocked platelet binding of both fibrinogen and von Willebrand factor with antibodies. These findings had immediate implications for identifying and studying an array of clotting disorders. “I was looking for ways to help people with these [antibodies], so I was really eager to apply them to anything I could,” Dr. Coller said.
For Drs. Coller and Bennett, receiving the Ernest Beutler Prize is meaningful both personally and professionally. Dr. Beutler was one of Dr. Coller’s heroes and a good friend. “We worked together as editors of Williams Hematology for a number of years,” Dr. Coller said. “He was a remarkable scientist, always asking the most important and insightful questions, never intimidated by conventional wisdom, and amazingly clever in designing experiments.” Dr. Bennett and the members of his lab are honored to be recognized for their achievements. Much like Dr. Beutler, they have tried to stay at the forefront of research and to address outstanding questions in the field in novel and innovative ways. “I think we have been generally successful, so receiving a prestigious award like this is an affirmation of those efforts.”
Source material for article: Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Biography of Barry S. Coller. 2004;101:13111-13113. (www.pnas.org/content/101/36/13111)