Apr. 04, 2012

Retired Research Scientist William Henzel ’76 Receives Geneseo Medal of Distinction


GENESEO, N.Y. - The State University of New York at Geneseo has awarded 1976 alumnus and nationally recognized research scientist William Henzel with the Geneseo Medal of Distinction, the college's highest honor recognizing exceptional professional achievement and contributions to society. Henzel specialized in protein identification and was instrumental in the development of a cancer fighting drug.

Henzel spent 21 years managing a laboratory research team at Genentech Inc., a trailblazing biotechnology company in California. Henzel and his team isolated sequences of new proteins for human therapeutic uses, which led Genentech biologists to develop a human antibody that could be used as a therapeutic cancer drug. The result was the discovery of the cancer-fighting drug Avastin, the most significant breakthrough in company history. The drug prevents blood vessels from forming near a tumor, thus "starving" it.

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.

"Like all scientists, Bill is constantly learning," said Christopher C. Dahl, president of SUNY Geneseo, "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."

Originally from Schenectady, N.Y., Henzel studied chemistry at Geneseo, which sparked his interest in research and provided a firm foundation for his career. After graduation, he worked in research labs at the Harvard-affiliated Children's Hospital Boston and the Department of Biology at the University of Massachusetts before joining Genentech in 1982.

Henzel felt a calling to share his passion for science with young students and began to teach biology at Serra High School, 12 miles from his Genentech lab. He left the company in 2003 to teach full time at the school, which he did for two years. Today he volunteers at Piedmont Middle School, teaching biology and earth science to students in the sixth and seventh grades.

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.

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