In August, President Biden announced his intention to appoint Dr. Monica M. Bertagnolli as the newest director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Yesterday, Bertagnolli began her tenure as the 16th NCI director and , notably, the first woman to take on this crucial role overseeing the largest center under the National Institutes of Health (NIH) umbrella. Bertagnolli specializes in treating patients with gastrointestinal cancers and soft tissue sarcomas. She has led a prolific career in which, beyond treating cancer patients, she has excelled in training translational researchers and advancing research to understand cancer better and improve survivorship.
Bertagnolli attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and received her medical degree from the University of Utah. After medical school, she completed a residency at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. Bertagnolli also worked as an attending surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital–Cornell and as an associate surgeon at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center. Before her recruitment to the NCI, Bertagnolli served as a Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and a surgical oncologist at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital. Additionally, she practiced with the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment and Sarcoma Centers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Bertagnolli’s research program focuses on the Adenomatous Polyposis Coli (APC) gene, a well-established regulator of colorectal tumor development. APC gene mutation can result in a serious disorder called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). FAP is a hereditary condition characterized by abnormal growth of polyps forming on tissues in the colon and rectum. FAP remains a serious risk factor associated with colorectal cancer, and Bertagnolli’s research uses mouse models of the disease to understand how alterations in APC accelerate or mitigate, cancer risk.
Some of the discoveries made in the Bertagnolli laboratory include associating overexpression of an enzyme called Cox-2 with tumor development, uncovering the role of estrogen receptor signaling in colon cancer formation, correlating BRAF mutations with poor colon cancer prognosis, and improving prognostic staging criteria for colon cancer by evaluating lymph nodes and tumor deposits.
Biden’s announcement to appoint Bertagnolli noted how she would serve as a powerful voice for cancer patients in support of the Cancer Moonshot, one of the President’s signature initiatives. Additionally, the White House indicated that Bertagnolli’s experiences would help her advance health care in rural and remote communities. Indeed, her research record indicates her well suited to expand the inclusivity of cancer care and prevention to these populations.
As Dr. Bertagnolli takes the helm as the first woman director at the NCI, she will inspire future generations of translational cancer researchers! I look forward to seeing how she transforms a new era of cancer research!