Apr. 18, 2012

Cancer-fighting alumnus receives Geneseo’s highest honor


For 21 years of his career as a scientist, William Henzel '76 managed a research team at the trailblazing biotechnology company Genentech Inc.

He and his team isolated sequences of new proteins for human therapeutic uses, which led to Genentech biologists being able to develop a human antibody that could be used as a therapeutic cancer drug. The result — Avastin — is the most significant breakthrough in company history. The drug prevents blood vessels from forming near a tumor, thus "starving" it.

For his exceptional professional achievement and contributions to society, Henzel was recently awarded the Geneseo Medal of Distinction, the college's highest honor awarded to alumni. President Christopher C. Dahl presented the award to him at the San Francisco launch event in March for Shaping Lives of Purpose: The Campaign for Geneseo.

"Like all scientists, Bill is constantly learning," said Dahl, "and for that we are very grateful. His research, evidenced by more than 130 scientific publications and three U.S. patents, has moved us closer to a cure for cancer. His career and life accomplishment clearly reflect the ideals symbolized by this distinctive award."

Henzel's legacy is the development of the concept of peptide mass fingerprinting using mass spectrometry, which made it easier and faster to identify experimental proteins.

A chemistry major at Geneseo, after graduation Henzel worked in research labs at the Harvard-affiliated Children's Hospital Boston and at the University of Massachusetts before joining Genentech in 1982. In 2003, he switched gears to share his passion for science with young students, as a biology teacher for two years. He now volunteers teaching biology and earth science to students in the sixth and seventh grades near his home in California.

In 2002, the American Society of Mass Spectrometry recognized Henzel for his distinguished contribution in mass spectrometry. He also is affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities.