Geneticist Frederick W. Alt, PhD, to receive AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research

Frederick W. Alt, PhD
Frederick W. Alt, PhD

Highly accomplished geneticist Frederick W. Alt, PhD, will receive the 18th AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research during the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2021.

Alt is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, director of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Charles A. Janeway Professor of Pediatrics and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Alt’s research established oncogene amplification as a mechanism of tumor progression and elucidated non-homologous DNA end joining, a pathway that repairs double-strand breaks in DNA. His findings have revolutionized scientific understanding of how genomic rearrangements occur and how they contribute to cancer.

Early in his career, Alt’s landmark discovery of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) gene amplification provided the first molecular demonstration of genomic instability in mammalian cancer cells. His work also provided a molecular basis for considering cancer genomes as distinctly different from normal cell genomes. His subsequent discovery of N-myc, based on observed amplification rates in human neuroblastomas, was critical in establishing oncogene amplification as a fundamental tumor-progression mechanism and provided several examples of cancer genomic instability. His discoveries revealed both a mechanism for how cancer cells acquire drug resistance and a mechanism for how they develop more potent oncogenes.

Alt’s later discovery of key non-homologous DNA end joining, one of the two major mammalian DNA double-strand break repair pathways, played a major part in establishing its critical role in suppressing the rearrangements and amplifications that cause cancer. Building upon this discovery, Alt demonstrated alternative end-joining pathways and described their role in mediating chromosomal translocations.

“Dr. Alt is a pioneer in the fields of genetics and immunology whose landmark discoveries have had a defining impact on the study of cancer biology,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “We thank him for his immeasurable contributions to cancer research and are proud to honor his ongoing dedication to progress against cancer with this award.”

The AACR Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research was established in 2004 to honor individuals who have made significant fundamental contributions to cancer research, either through a single scientific discovery or a collective body of work. These contributions, whether in research, leadership, or mentorship, must have had a lasting impact on the cancer field and must have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to progress against cancer.