Scientists recognized for revolutionary cancer investigations

June 8, 2007

WORCESTER, Mass.— The Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research (WFBR) of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) will present two Gregory Pincus Medals—named for the WFBR co-founder and pioneer in reproductive biology—to scientists V. Craig Jordan, OBE, PhD, DSc, and Angela Hartley Brodie, PhD at a June 14 ceremony.  Renowned around the world for their innovative research into cancer treatments, Drs. Jordan and Brodie spent a formative segment of their early professional careers in the labs of what was then the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology.

According to WFBR Director Thoru Pederson, PhD, the Vitold Arnett Professor and professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at UMMS, both recipients were chosen for their impact on science and technology and join a cadre of prestigious winners, including several Nobel laureates, who have received the award since its inception in 1969. “Drs. Jordan and Brodie both started out by asking a basic biological question—can hormone-dependent breast cancer be slowed by intercepting the hormone?  This idea sounds so obvious today, but it was a courageous hypothesis at the time they started their two respective research paths,” explained Dr. Pederson.

Dr. Jordan has received international acclaim for his research into the anti-estrogen effects of Tamoxifen, hailed as one of the most significant therapies in the last 20 years for the treatment of breast cancer.  Following receipt of his PhD from the University of Leeds, Jordan spent two years at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, completing early investigations into the effects of Tamoxifen. Notably, he determined the compound could prevent the development of rat mammary cancer and work as an antitumor agent if given for long periods of time.  

Today, it is known that Tamoxifen therapy administered after surgery to those patients who have estrogen-dependent breast cancer not only prevents the recurrence of the disease, but also improves survival. In fact, the use of Tamoxifen is estimated to have saved 500,000 women’s lives.  Additionally, again based on Jordan’s work, the possibility that Tamoxifen could actually be preventive was tested in clinical trial during the 1990s and became the first agent to reduce the risk of breast cancer in women at high risk. 

Jordan is currently the vice president and research director for Medical Sciences and the Alfred G. Knudson Chair for Cancer Research at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Prior to joining Fox Chase, he was director of the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Research Program of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago from 1993 to 2004. During his tenure there, he also served as the Diana, Princess of Wales Professor of Cancer Research. 

Jordan has received numerous international awards for his contributions to science and medicine, most notably, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor (2002), the Brinker International Award from the Susan G. Komen Foundation (1992), the Dorothy P. Landon Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (2003) and the Charles F. Kettering Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation (2003).  In 2002, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Jordan as Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his services to international breast cancer research.

“When I first met him in 1972, Craig displayed the typical vigor of a dynamically engaged young scientist—always impressive but by no means unusual. But as his research continued over the subsequent years, he displayed a far more important trait—inspired persistence.  As much as any other quality, his refusal to be dissuaded from the belief that targeting the estrogen receptor could become an effective chemotherapeutic approach to breast cancer is the singularity of his distinguished career,” said Pederson.

An accomplished biochemist, Dr. Brodie is a professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine where she is also a member of the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. She is recognized for discovering and developing a new class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors. Now in use around the globe, these drugs help to prevent recurrence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women by reducing the level of the hormone estrogen produced by the body, thereby cutting off the fuel that promotes the growth of cancer cells. The drugs also are used to treat postmenopausal women whose breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Brodie developed a strong interest in the role of estrogens in breast cancer during her early years in research at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, England. She began investigating compounds to inhibit aromatase while at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology and continued her work after joining the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1979.

In 2005, Brodie became the first female scientist to receive the Charles F. Kettering Prize, which recognizes the most outstanding recent contribution to the diagnosis or treatment of cancer.  In 2006, among many other honors, she received the Landon-AACR Prize for Basic and Translational Cancer Research, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Award for Research and the Chester Stock Award from Memorial Sloan-Kettering.

 “Whereas Tamoxifen works by blocking the action of estrogen, Dr. Brodie believed that one might attack breast cancer by actually inhibiting the biosynthesis of estrogen in the first place.  She discovered an agent that did exactly this and went to demonstrate that it and related agents were highly effective against breast cancer.  Because there was considerable resistance to her concept in some quarters, especially from so-called expert endocrinologists, Angela’s career has been one of exceptional scientific courage. Today, the aromatase inhibitor drugs she discovered are, together with Tamoxifen, on the frontline of cancer chemotherapy” Pederson said.

About the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research
The WFBR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization internationally recognized for its revolutionary contributions to biology and medicine.  Among its best known contributions were the discovery and development of the birth control pill, the pioneering work on in vitro fertilization, and the first systematic study of the anti-tumor actions of Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug that subsequently revolutionized treatment of breast cancer.

Initially an independent research institute, the WFBR merged with UMMS in 1997.  Today, the WFBR is devoted to the support of basic biomedical research of the combined research enterprise, and to the education and training of tomorrow’s scientists.

About the University of Massachusetts Medical School
The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, has built a reputation as a world-class research institution, consistently producing noteworthy advances in clinical and basic research.  The Medical School attracts more than $176 million in research funding annually, 80 percent of which comes from federal funding sources. The work of UMMS researcher Craig C. Mello, PhD, an investigator of the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), and his colleague Andrew Z. Fire, PhD, then of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, toward the discovery of RNA interference was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, hailed as the "Breakthrough of the Year" in 2002 by Science magazine and has spawned a new and promising field of research, the global impact of which may prove astounding. UMMS is the academic partner of UMass Memorial Health Care, the largest health care provider in Central Massachusetts. For more information, visit

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