Max S. Wicha, a physician-scientist recognized internationally as a leader in cancer stem cell research and immuno-oncology, will deliver the Henry Russel Lecture.
His lecture, titled “Attacking Cancer At Its Roots: It Takes A Village,” will begin at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 26 in the Rackham Amphitheatre.
The lecture is open to the public. A recording of the event will be posted the next day to the U-M YouTube channel.
The Henry Russel Lectureship is considered U-M’s highest honor for senior members of active faculty. It is awarded annually to recognize a faculty member with exceptional achievements in research, scholarship or creative endeavors, as well as an outstanding record of distinguished teaching, mentoring and service to the university and wider communities.
This year, four faculty members also received the Henry Russel Award. They are:
• Meghan A. Duffy, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, LSA.
• Matthew Johnson-Roberson, associate professor of naval architecture and marine engineering, and electrical engineering and computer science, College of Engineering.
• Timothy McAllister, associate professor of music, School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
• Necmiye Ozay, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science, CoE.
Considered the university’s highest honor for early and mid-career faculty, the Henry Russel Award recognizes those who have demonstrated an extraordinary record of accomplishment in scholarly research or creativity, as well as an excellent record of contributions as a teacher.
Wicha, Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology and professor of internal medicine, Medical School, is one of the most highly cited scientists in his field, with more than 200 publications in leading journals. He was the founding director of what is now U-M’s Rogel Cancer Center for more than 25 years.
Wicha directs a research group that made a number of seminal contributions in understanding the pathways that regulate breast cancer stem cells and the role of cytokines, small proteins that are involved in cell signaling.
His research helped identify cancer stem cells in human breast cancer, the first in any solid tumor, and developed the molecular markers and assays that are now widely used to isolate and characterize cancer stem cells. His recent research has been key to understanding the fundamental role that cancer stem cells play in tumor metastasis.
For his Russel lecture, Wicha will discuss medical discoveries related to breast cancer research and the importance of creating interdisciplinary researcher teams.
“The underlying theme is that in each stage of my research, I really benefitted from teams that we put together at the university and the cancer center,” Wicha said, adding that one of U-M’s strengths is the wide-ranging excellence of its schools.
“I have collaborated with people in six different schools from around the university and various teams over the years to make new discoveries,” he said. “I think there’s a very exciting time in cancer research but the University of Michigan is a particularly fertile place because of so much expertise across the board.”
In particular, Wicha plans to discuss how he and team members discovered stem cells in breast cancer, and how experts in a diverse set of fields have worked together to develop new approaches to target cancer stem cells.
“The roots in my title are really the stem cells; they’re the roots of cancer and they’re responsible for spreading the cancer,” Wicha said. “Then, ‘it takes a village’ is really the story of the teams here at Michigan that have attacked this problem.”
Wicha earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his medical degree at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He joined the U-M faculty in 1980.
The co-founder of OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, Wicha collaborates with other biotechnology companies to develop and test cancer stem cell inhibitors. He is the founding and current director of the Rogel Cancer Center’s Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery, an interdisciplinary center established to stimulate innovative technology and new therapies.
Wicha’s accolades include the Stanford University J.E. Wallace Sterling Lifetime Achievement Award in Medicine and the American Association for Cancer Research Komen Award.