Stanley N. Cohen, MD

In November 1973, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Stan Cohen of Stanford University and Herb Boyer of the University of California fundamentally changed the disciplines of biology, chemistry, and biotechnology. The paper reported the discovery that non-replicating fragments of DNA, the hereditary material of all cells, could be cloned in bacteria by linking them to DNA capable of propagation in the recipient—and provided a recipe for accomplishing this. The invention of DNA cloning by Cohen and Boyer has provided a cornerstone for virtually all of modern biological and medical research and has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of human disease. In subsequent experiments, Cohen and his colleagues showed that the cloning methods they had invented were applicable even to DNA from unrelated micobes or animal cells, and then showed that mammalian genes introduced into bacteria could churn out biologically functional proteins.

Stan Cohen is a magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University who received his doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In 1968, he joined the faculty of Stanford, where he began the study of plasmids—small circular DNA molecules carrying genes for antibiotic resistance. During these studies, Cohen discovered methods for introducing plasmid DNA into bacteria. From this work came the concept of using plasmids as carriers for propagating and cloning genes linked to them.

Cohen is currently the Kwoh-Ting Li Professor of Genetics and Professor of Medicine at Stanford. He is the author of more than 350 scientific publications and the recipient of awards that include the National Medal of Science, the National Medal of Technology, the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the Albany Medical Center Prize, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and the Double Helix Medal. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a past Chairman of its Genetics Section. He also has been elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine, the American Philosophical Society, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He has received Sc.D. honoris causa degrees from Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania, and is an Einstein Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He and Boyer are named as the inventors on the recombinant DNA patents underlying the field of genetic engineering.