As a biochemist and molecular biologist, she shares her own unique perspective on the future of cancer treatment and prevention.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Senior Member and Basic Science Director Emeritus, Fox Chase Cancer Center
Favorite professor: “Bayard Brattstrom, a professor in the Biology Department at Adelphi in the late 1950s, who introduced me to the excitement of scientific research and guided me in my first genuine research projects while still an undergraduate. He encouraged me to consider graduate school.”
Proudest professional moments: Helping to clarify how retroviruses replicate, while she was a researcher at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in the 1980s.
Looking to the Future with Retroviral Research
Dr. Skalka is a Senior Member and former Director of the Institute for Cancer Research and Senior Vice President of Basic Science at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a position she held until 2008. Fox Chase is one of the nation’s oldest comprehensive cancer centers. Scientific research is conducted in more than 70 laboratories and by more than 300 investigators. With a total of approximately 2,500 employees, the Center also conducts clinical research and studies with adults at risk for particular types of cancer. The Fox Chase Cancer Center maintains a 100-bed hospital for cancer patients, and accommodates more than 70,000 outpatient visits a year.
After more than 30 years as a biochemist and molecular biologist focusing on virus and genetic research, Anna Marie Skalka shares her own unique perspective on the future of cancer treatment and prevention.
“Fundamentally, cancer is a genetic disease,” she says. “We began to understand this many years ago. Within the next 50 years, we will increase our knowledge not only of the molecular basis of cancer, but also the genetic and other factors that predispose individuals to this disease, to the point that eventually we will be able to revolutionize both early detection methods and prevention strategies.”
Dr. Skalka’s own research has centered on the molecular aspects of replication of retroviruses. Such viruses are of special interest because they are known to induce genetic rearrangements and cause cancer in animals and humans. HIV, the cause of AIDS, is also a retrovirus, and some retroviruses have been developed for use in gene therapy.
For 18 years, Dr. Skalka was a member of the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology, a basic research institution funded by the pharmaceutical firm Hoffman-La Roche. There she conducted research, first with a bacterial virus as a model system and later on with retroviruses. Her interest in retroviruses began in the early 1980s, when it became clear that new cloning technologies would open unique opportunities for investigation in this important field. Her career continued to progress over the years and she was eventually appointed an Assistant Vice President for Research at Hoffman-La Roche and Chair of the Department of Molecular Oncology at the Roche Institute. In 1987, she was recruited to the Fox Chase Cancer Center where, for the next 21 years, she served as Director of the Institute for Cancer Research and Senior Vice President of Basic Science. Currently, as Senior Member and Basic Science Director Emeritus, Dr. Skalka maintains an active laboratory research program at Fox Chase, and she continues to provide senior leadership, both at the Center and for other organizations within the scientific community.
Dr. Skalka wasn’t always drawn to laboratory science. After graduating high school, she aspired to become a commercial artist, but was encouraged by her family to select a more practical career. She enrolled at Adelphi University with a major in biology (and a minor in art) after obtaining a Long Island Corporation Scholarship, happy to find an excellent college close to home.
Her first exposure to real research, fostered by Dr. Brattstrom at Adelphi, proved addictive, and her fascination with genetics and biochemistry fueled her ambition to pursue a research career. After graduation, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in microbiology at New York University Medical School and then did postdoctoral work in genetics with Nobel laureate Al Hershey at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.
Dr. Skalka has served on numerous national and international advisory boards and committees, including the Naval Research Advisory Committee, the Defense Science Board, the National Cancer Institute Board of Scientific Counselors, the National Institutes of Health Study Section on AIDS Molecular and Cellular Biology, and the advisory committee to the Pew Biomedical Scholars Program. She also serves as Chair of the New Jersey State Commission on Cancer Research and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the New York Academy of Science.
She has written and co-authored more than 150 articles, as well as numerous book chapters, papers, and scholarly reviews. Together with her three co-authors, she is currently completing the third edition of their widely used textbook, Principles of Virology.
When she’s not in the lab, Dr. Skalka enjoys reading mysteries, biking, canoeing, and skiing. She and her husband Rudolph have two children, Jeannemarie, who is a botanist with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon, and Christian, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Vermont.
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