Beatrice Mintz

This week for WiSE Wednesday we’re highlighting Beatrice Mintz, who died earlier this year at the age of 100. She was a pioneer in the fields of epigenetics and the tumor microenvironment before the words to describe these fields were invented. She was an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1973 and the recipient of an AACR lifetime achievement award in Cancer Research in 2012.

Dr. Mintz was a cancer biologist and embryologist who greatly furthered our understanding of how cells influence the cells around them. As a young woman she initially began her studies in art history before discovering a love of biology and obtaining her bachelor’s degree in biology from Hunter College in New York and her master’s and Ph.D. from University of Iowa. She taught at University of Chicago before accepting a research position at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has helped advance both cancer biology and embryology and has helped science to understand how cancer cells are similar to the cell types seen during development. One of her noteworthy discoveries came when she mixed cancer cells with a developing mouse embryo in an attempt to develop a mouse model of cancer. However, instead she discovered that signals from the neighboring cells in the embryo could cause the cancer cells to enter a benign state and a normal mouse to develop. This idea of how nearby cells influence the cancer cells is now the basis for studies of the tumor microenvironment.

Beatrice’s work was at the cutting edge at a time in which in order to study embryology and cancer she had to invent the tools to do it. She liked to work alone and did most of the hands-on work herself. To study embryology she made ‘multi-mice’ mixing embryos from white mice with embryos from black mice so she could study what parts of the embryo contributed to the grown mouse. She was also among the first people to generate transgenic mice and her model of cutaneous melanoma was used as a model for human melanomas. 

Dr. Mintz also loved art and poetry. In her spare time she collected artwork and wrote poetry, often about her mice. She died on January 3, 2022.

Entry courtesy of Claire Regan

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