© The Nobel Foundation
Harold E. Varmus

American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize

Harold E. Varmus: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine Recipient-1989
by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Harold E. Varmus is an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 1989, which he shared with J. Michael Bishop, for their discovery of the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes.

Varmus was born on December 18, 1939, on the south shore of Long Island, New York. His grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. When he was eleven years old, his mother’s parents founded a clothing store in Freeport, New York. His father became a medical doctor and his mother a social worker.

When the United States entered World war II, his father was assigned to an Air Force Hospital near Winter Park, FL. When the war ended, they returned to Freeport, New York and he resumed his public school education.

He enrolled at Amhurst College, 1957, and graduated with a B.A. in English literature. He then went to Harvard University, where he received a graduate degree in English, 1962. He then entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and graduated with an M.D., in 1966.

He married to Constance Casey, in 1969, who was a journalist and horticulturist. They have two sons: Jacob and Christopher.

In 1966 to 1968, Varmus worked as a medical house officer at the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. In 1969, he joined Mike Bishop as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1972, he became a regular member of the faculty of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He became a Professor in 1979.

Harold E. Varmus received many awards and honors:
● California Scientist of the Year, 1982
● Albert Lasker Basic medical Research Award, 1982
● Passano Foundation Award, 1983
● Armand Hammer Cancer Prize, 1984
● Alfred P. Sloan Prize from the General Motors Cancer Foundation, 1984
● Gairdner Foundation International Award, 1984
● American College of Physicians Award, 1987
● Elected to the National Academy of Science, 1984
● Elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1988
● Honorary Degree from Amhurst College, 1985
● Alumni Gold Medal from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1989
● American Cancer Society Professor of Molecular Virology, since 1984

Return to Table of Contents