Beverly Emerson, PhD, not only uncovered details about how cancer is able to become drug resistant over time, but also shed new light on several genes and proteins that play key roles in the development of cancer.
Emerson studied how different genes are turned on and off through the course of a cancer—from the time cells become precancerous until the time they develop into a mature cancer and spread to new organs. Many researchers look for genes that are mutated in tumors, as these mistakes in the DNA code can lead to cancer. Emerson’s lab looked at other ways genes can be turned on and off to allow a tumor to grow. She found that the physical arrangement of DNA inside a cell’s nucleus can affect cancer genes: for example, if a gene gets stuck in a folded-up piece of DNA, proteins that normally turn it on can no longer access it. Her lab also studied how different proteins (and their mutations) interact in cancer cells. Looking at cancer genetics in this broader way helped Emerson to discover new drug targets that may be used to prevent or treat cancers.
Emerson earned her undergraduate degree at UC San Diego and her PhD at Washington University in St. Louis. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. She has been recognized with several prestigious awards, including a Pew Scholarship and fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is currently a distinguished scientist at the Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute.