Vol. 12 No. 2 - March, 2010

Harold Varmus to deliver UMass Worcester commencement address

Nobel Prize winner and former director of NIH, along with local philanthropist Mary DeFeudis and former CEO and Registrar of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Michael Horgan, to receive honorary degree

photo courtesy of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Harold E. Varmus, MD

Harold E. Varmus, MD, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, former director of the National Institutes of Health and co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine, will deliver the commencement address at the 37th Commencement Exercises on Sunday, June 6. Dr. Varmus shared the Nobel Prize with J. Michael Bishop, MD, for their studies of the genetic basis of cancer.

Born in New York, Dr. Varmus earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Amherst College and a master's degree in English at Harvard University before deciding to refocus on a career in science. He graduated from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons and, in 1970, joined the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Bishop’s laboratory. It was at UCSF that Varmus and Bishop conducted the work that led to the Nobel Prize for their discovery of the cellular origins of the oncogene, which led to the identification of many genes that control growth and development and are frequently mutated in human cancer.

In 1993, Varmus was named by President Bill Clinton to serve as the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a position he held through 1999. While at the NIH, he initiated many changes in the conduct of intramural and extramural research programs; recruited new leaders; planned three major buildings on the Bethesda campus; and helped to initiate the five-year doubling of the budget that has lent momentum to important biomedical research at institutions across the country, including UMass Worcester.

Varmus, who has authored hundreds of scientific publications and is a champion of open access scientific publishing and increased support of global health initiatives, was appointed by the Obama administration as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.

UMass Worcester will award him an honorary degree in recognition of his foundational contributions to biomedical research and his commitment to excellence in scientific inquiry and clinical care worldwide.

Longtime local philanthropist Mary C. DeFeudis will also be awarded an honorary degree in recognition of her enthusiastic support of the UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Medical Center academic health sciences center and her abiding love for her community and its residents. Most recently, DeFeudis contributed her keen business acumen and expertise as chair of the nonprofit organization that procures private philanthropic support for UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial.

A third honorary degree will be awarded to Michael Horgan, former CEO and registrar of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), for his significant contributions to medical education and international educational partnerships. Under Horgan’s leadership, RCSI solidified its reputation as a leader in surgical and medical education while building an international reputation as an independent and progressive biomedical research institution.