When opportunity knocks, Stanley Cohen would advise you to open the door. His most famous research came about due to pure happenstance and rather than discard it, Cohen took the baton and ran. His mentality was succinctly summed up to a high school audience in 2007, “Many new things are found by accident. If you’re prepared to see the accident, you can find it.”
Tenacity, opportunity, snake venom, and a bit of luck led to Cohen and his colleague Rita Levi-Montalcini to discover epidermal growth factor. The EGF finding would demonstrate how many developmental processes happen in the body. Cohen’s deductions would lead other scientists to drastic conclusions. The ability to regulate growth factors has had tremendous potential to bring about a wider variety of targeted treatments to cancer, heart failure, and even kidney disease.
Cohen’s monumental accomplishments went unrecognized for decades. A modest and humble man, he kept working with the knowledge he had stumbled onto a ground-breaking discovery that would have massive ripple effects into medicine.
By Melissa Ayala