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MIT’s Amon named to receive Vanderbilt Prize

Oct. 18, 2018, 8:28 AM


by Bill Snyder

Angelika Amon, PhD, whose groundbreaking investigations of chromosome segregation during cell division have advanced understanding of how cancer may develop, is the recipient of the 2018 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, officials at Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced today.

Angelika Amon, PhD

Amon is the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor in Cancer Research and professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. She also is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Amon is the 13th recipient of the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science. Established in 2006 by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), the prize honors women scientists with a stellar record of research accomplishments who have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science.

“Among many insights from her research, Dr. Amon has advanced the understanding of how abnormalities in cell division contribute to the development of cancer. During her distinguished career she has been the recipient of numerous accolades for her scholarly contributions and is widely recognized as an outstanding mentor. I want to congratulate her as this year’s recipient of the Vanderbilt Prize,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of VUSM.

Prize winners receive an honorarium, present a special seminar as part of the Flexner Discovery Lecture series and mentor a Vanderbilt Prize Scholar, a woman who is pursuing graduate studies in the biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine.

Amon will receive her prize on Jan. 31, 2019, when she is scheduled to give her Flexner Discovery Lecture.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Amon is being recognized for her pioneering work in genome maintenance, which has catalyzed innovative areas of research and provided insight to how cells age and cancers develop,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, VUMC Executive Vice President for Research.

“She is a world-renowned scientist and an exceptional teacher and mentor, a role model for us all,” said Pietenpol, who also is director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Amon received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Sciences degrees in Biology from the University of Vienna. She continued her graduate work there under geneticist Kim Nasmyth, PhD, receiving her doctorate in 1993.

After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of developmental and cell biologist Ruth Lehmann, PhD, at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Amon accepted a Whitehead Fellow position in 1996 to study mechanisms governing chromosome segregation.

In 1999 Amon joined the faculty of the Department of Biology and the MIT Center for Cancer Research — the predecessor to the Koch Institute — as assistant professor, rising to full professor in 2007. In 2013 she joined the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as an associate member.

Amon is the author or co-author of more than 170 scientific publications. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and last year was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She has won numerous awards for her research including the 2013 Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, one of Europe’s highest endowed medical awards, and the Genetics Society of America Medal in 2014.

This week Amon won a $3 million “Breakthrough Prize” in Life Sciences for her studies of aneuploidy, an abnormal number of chromosomes due to segregation defects, and its potential links to tumorigenesis. Sponsors of the annual Breakthrough Prizes include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

“It’s true that the vast majority of tumors are aneuploid,” she said in an interview published in 2011 by the Journal of Cell Biology, “but we don’t know what aneuploidy does to cells …

“We thought that the only way we could understand it was to first determine what the effects of having an extra chromosome are on a normal, untransformed cell. Then we can ask how, if at all, this contributes to cancer.”

Her laboratory’s current investigations probe the regulatory mechanisms of cell division, cell stress, and the interplay between mitotic (dividing) cells and their surrounding environment.

Amon has also been recognized for her leadership role in supporting women scientists. She is a founding board member of the Rosalind Franklin Society, established in 2007 to recognize, encourage and support women in science.

In 2016 she received the American Association for Cancer Research-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship, presented to outstanding scientists in the field of cancer research who have “through leadership or by example furthered the advancement of women in science.”

For a complete list of Vanderbilt Prize winners, go to the VUMC Office of Research website at and click on the pull-down menu on the “Research” tab.

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