Dr. George Tuszynski’s path to Rutgers-Camden started in high school, after a teacher recommended the university’s chemistry program to the budding scientist. George learned to recognize the chemistry in all things as a student and researcher, and his discoveries would evolve into a passion for “fighting disease through chemistry” and helping students to achieve their dreams so that they may help those in need.
George chose Rutgers-Camden for its affordability and easy commute from home. An only child whose father had been killed in World War II, George needed to live at home with his mother. Rutgers-Camden’s value proved to extend to the classroom, as well. Organic chemistry professor Dr. Chip Willits captured George’s initial interest in the chemical reactions inside living things; outside the lab, he was happily intrigued by Dr. Lock’s Western Civilization class.
In George’s last semester, he applied for doctoral programs at universities in Philadelphia. During his interview at the University of Pennsylvania, he was asked to explain chemical kinetics. As luck would have it, George has just recently attended a lecture on chemical kinetics at Rutgers-Camden, and was able to answer the interviewer’s question with ease. He was accepted into Penn, and enrolled there to earn his Ph.D. in biochemistry, with a focus on the biochemical basis of cancer. For five years he developed research under Dr. Leonard Warren, whom he followed to the Wistar Institute to continue researching cancer.
Upon receiving his degree, George applied for a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant at the same time that he answered an ad for a teaching position at Temple University. He received both the job and the grant, working for nearly seven years as a research assistant professor investigating thrombosis. In pursuit of a higher position, he left Temple to work at the Lankenau Medical Research Center, and to study cell adhesion and metastasis, but he missed the teaching aspect of research. He was recruited by the Medical College of Pennsylvania to further develop research on angiogenesis, cancer metastasis, and tumor progression. While he was making game-changing discoveries in cancer research, he also sat on the Board of Directors of a biotechnology company together with the dean of Temple’s school of science and technology. The dean recruited George back to Temple as professor of biology in 2002, then as professor of neuroscience in 2005, continuing his research on cancer. He received tenure status and at the same time his work fueled his passion to help people using chemistry.
George retired from teaching last year, but continues to devote time to getting his and his colleagues’ scientific innovations “from bench to bedside.” Just before he retired from Temple he competed for a grant to commercialize his cancer discoveries into a clinical therapeutic. He was awarded a $200,000 grant backed by the university’s Science Center and Temple to do a proof of concept study. Upon successful completion of his study he formed a Temple start-up company, called Diffregen, in 2011. The company landed a $289,000 small business grant from the National Cancer Institute to support further development of his therapeutic leukemia peptide called angiocidin. Angiocidin differentiates leukemia cells into normal white blood cells, which causes the disease to regress. The drug will go through a lengthy process of pre-clinical trials, but the goal remains to get a helpful product commercialized and available to patients.
George is also a consultant for Proplex Technologies, a company started by his Penn colleague, Dr. Frank Chang, and Neostrata, a cosmetics company founded by Dr. Ruey Yu. George attends monthly meetings to discuss the development of Chang’s GASP-1 protein, which detects an early marker for breast cancer, and consults for Yu’s testing lab, which develops skin products. George and his wife, Vicki Rothman, are also involved with their friend Lana Samuels’ non-profit foundation, People in Crisis. Their mission is to help people who have medical issues and little access to fix them.
George’s involvement with Rutgers has now transitioned from donating alumnus and visiting lecturer to a scholarship donor, with his wife, Vicki, for scholarships for undergraduate students majoring in biology or chemistry. He has stated the importance of continuing education in the sciences for the sake of helping others, and discourages the hoarding of scientific achievements. In George’s mind, Rutgers students should be inspired to make and share their discoveries in the business world, giving competitive momentum to scientific breakthrough and purpose to discovery. His hope is that Rutgers-Camden students will continue to explore their curiosities as those “drive the life process” themselves.
About Dr. George Tuszynski
Camden College of Arts and Sciences Graduation Date: 1968
Written By Darragh Nolan