Trinity College Dublin in Ireland and Western University in Ontario, Canada each honored Biological Systems and Engineering (BSE) Division Distinguished Scientist Mina Bissell this fall for her exceptional body of work in cancer biology, which shifted the central paradigm of the field.
In September, Bissell accepted the 2019 Burkitt Medal and delivered the Burkitt Lecture during the 11th International Cancer Conference at the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute (TTMI). Established in 2013, the award recognizes investigators possessing integrity, compassion, and dedication matching that of Denis Burkitt, an alumnus of Trinity College Medical School and one of the great clinician-research scientists of the twentieth century. Bissell was selected as the 2019 recipient for her extraordinary achievements and advancement of oncology.
“Her lifetime work has a special emphasis on breast cancer, but with broad relevance to all cancers,” said Paul Browne, professor of hematology at Trinity College Dublin. “She has shown how the tissue architecture and environment in which cancer cells develop is so important in determining the pattern—or phenotype—of cancer in individual patients.”
Bissell’s lecture, a highlight of the conference, was entitled: “Why don’t we get more cancer? The critical role of extracellular matrix and microenvironment in malignancy and dormancy.”
In October, Bissell was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa (DSc), during Western University’s 314th Convocation ceremonies. Amit Chakma, president and vice-chancellor of Western University, cited Bissell’s work investigating mammary glands and breast cancer—which proved the pivotal role that extracellular matrix signaling plays in regulation of gene expression in both normal and malignant cells—as well as her laboratory’s pioneering use of 3D organoids and techniques.
Among the other distinguished individuals who received honorary degrees during the ceremonies were Olympic gold-medalist ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the most decorated figure skaters in the history of the sport.
“I am extremely pleased to receive the honorary doctorate from the chancellor of Western University,” said Bissell. “I have trained approximately 100 fellows—including at least seven from Canada—all of whom have gone on to higher degrees and positions and I am very proud of them.” The ceremony was magnificent, she said, noting that she especially enjoyed meeting the Canadian ice skating pair.
In addition, Bissell presented a talk entitled, “Architecture is dominant over genotype in both normal and malignant cells: Studies with breast cells in 3D,” during grand rounds at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
She has previously received honorary doctorates from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.