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Letter from Jonathan Gerber, MD

Dear Members of the UMass Cancer Center Community,

On February 10, 2023, UMass Chan lost one of its giants—Michael Green, MD, PhD. For over thirty years, Dr. Green was a central figure at UMass Chan, serving in numerous leadership roles, including as vice provost for strategic research initiatives, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular, Cell and Cancer Biology, co-director of the Li Weibo Institute for Rare Diseases Research, and, of course, as Cancer Center director.

Dr. Green was a brilliant scientist whose discoveries had a significant impact on the field of gene regulation. Among his many contributions, he described the molecular machinery that drives splicing, a crucial step in gene expression. Splicing discards the sections of the RNA molecule unnecessary for protein production and retains and joins the needed segments. This work highlighted the intricacies of gene regulation and the dire implications that can result if the system malfunctions.

Dr. Green’s seminal work on splicing led to his discovery of the U2AF gene which greatly infuenced the cancer field, as it was later found that mutations in this gene can spur both myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Testing for U2AF mutations is now part of standard clinical next generation sequencing panels to diagnose and assess the remission status of AML and MDS.

He leveraged his expertise on gene expression by employing tools such as RNA interference and CRISPR to identify genes and regulatory pathways involved in epigenetic silencing—a process that can block expression of cancer-causing genes. When epigenetic silencing is disrupted in certain genes, cancer can develop. Identifying genes and pathways that drive epigenetic silencing can point to new therapeutic options.

He was always intent on facilitating bridges to the clinic and was a staunch proponent of drug repurposing. At the time of his death, he was working to determine whether FDA-approved androgen inhibitors, currently used to treat prostate cancer, might have other effects that could be exploited to treat other cancers. We are continuing to build on Dr. Green’s efforts and exploring clinical translation of this work.

These milestones earned Dr. Green well-deserved entry into the scientific pantheon. He was elected to three of the world’s most prestigious academies: the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, the National Academy of Medicine in 2015, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018.

Dr. Green's contributions to UMass Chan extended beyond the science he conducted. He had an ambitious vision for UMass Chan and a keen eye for detecting potential that proved instrumental in recruiting top talent, including the subsequent Nobel Laureate Craig Mello, PhD, and other prominent scientists who later earned spots in world-class academies such as the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. His dedication to our mission helped UMass Chan evolve into the powerhouse research engine it is today.

Dr. Green’s incomparable intellect, innovative vision, and his signature dry wit will all be sorely missed. He was taken from us too soon, so we never got a chance to properly thank him for all of his many contributions and wise guidance. This space on our website will serve as a place to honor his memory, giving us a way to remember our mentor, leader, and cherished friend. We miss him dearly, but we will honor his legacy by building on his many contributions to conquer cancer. 


Jonathan M. Gerber, MD

Cancer Center Director (2023-2024)

The Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, Award in Graduate Research