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Franziska Michor honored at second annual Alice Hamilton lecture

May 11, 2012

Franziska Michor, associate professor of computational biology, received Harvard School of Public Health’s second annual Alice Hamilton Award on April 11, 2012 in recognition of her pathbreaking work applying evolutionary theory to cancer. The award, sponsored by the School’s Committee on the Concerns of Women Faculty, is named in honor of Harvard’s first female faculty member Alice Hamilton, who was appointed assistant professor of industrial medicine in 1919 in what ultimately became the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH.

In her award lecture, Michor explained that cancer evolves through natural selection. As cells reproduce, mutations emerge that provide advantages and disadvantages for survival. Her lab is sifting through the 100,000 mutations in the cancer genome to identify patterns that are typical for particular cancer types, and also when and in what type of cells mutations arise. Armed with this information, Michor and her team are developing mathematical models that predict the formation and progression of cancer, its response to treatment, and the emergence of drug resistance.  Her work will help take the guesswork out of forming mouse models for targeted research, and, much further down the line, may save lives.

Victor De Gruttola, chair of the Department of Biostatistics, praised Michor’s “brilliance and fearlessness” in his introductory remarks, commenting that she has already made a major impact with her work in just two years at HSPH. De Gruttola joked that Michor, who is licensed to drive trucks, tractors, and bulldozers in her native Austria, has two options available when she wants to move mountains: “force of intellect or foot on the gas.”

—Amy Roeder

Photo: Aubrey LaMedica