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Vital Signs:
Cancer biologist and cancer survivor is named to Carroll Chair

Nancy Speck, Ph.D., has studied the biological mechanisms of cancer for years. She has mentored many young cancer researchers. She is associate director of basic sciences at DHMC's Norris Cotton Cancer Center. And she is herself a cancer survivor. All those threads of her life came together with her appointment on July 1 to Dartmouth's James J. Carroll 1948 Professorship in Oncology.

Being named to an endowed chair is one of academe's highest honors. Speck, who has been on the DMS faculty since 1989, is known internationally for naming and describing core-binding factors, as well as for more recent work with hematopoietic stemcell development and mutation. Hematopoietic stem cells are precursor cells that develop into blood cells. Mutations within these cells, as a result of mutated genes and altered proteins, can cause some types of leukemia.

In addition to contributing to the study of leukemia, Speck's research on gene mutations has provided strong supporting evidence for the hypothesis that hematopoietic stem cells develop from endothelial cells.

Photo by Flying Squirrel Graphics
Nancy Speck, second from right, was recently appointed to Dartmouth's James Carroll Professorship in Oncology.

Speck is also devoted to sharing her love for the lab with others. Her passion for mentoring young researchers is evident from the way her eyes light up when she talks about her graduate students. "I love it," she says, when a student "comes into the lab with ability but is clearly very green . . . to watch them grow scientifically over the next several years, to the point where they understand the details of their project probably better than you do." She especially enjoys mentoring women because of the tough choices women scientists have to make when balancing career and family.

"[Nancy] arrived at a crucial moment in my career, when the decision to go for it, 'it' being an independent position as a scientist, had to be made," says University of Oxford researcher Marella De Bruijn, Ph.D., who first met Speck at Erasmus University. Speck was studying hematopoietic stem-cell emergence in mouse embryos as a Fogarty Fellow, and she encouraged De Bruijn to come work in her lab at Dartmouth. "What influenced me most was, I think, the personal exchanges we had about her own career and how she succeeded in her work."

Genes: Trained as a basic scientist, Speck did not intend to become a cancer researcher but stumbled into the field when the two genes she was studying were found to have a direct link to human cancer. Basic scientists often view clinical science as a bit mundane, Speck admits.

But her perspective changed dramatically in 2001, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and experienced the anxiety and fear that accompany such a diagnosis. "When you are in the position of being a patient and reliant on the information that's gained from those trials, you come to realize how important they are," she says. "It has certainly made me more dedicated to the Cancer Center."

Speck has also made many contributions in the administrative realm. She cochaired the committee for the recent Cancer Center expansion, chaired the committee for wet-lab space allocation in the addition, and is the founding director of the Cancer Mechanisms Research Program at Norris Cotton.

She has received numerous national honors and grants, including a prestigious Leukemia and Lymphoma Society grant. She also helped her department secure a National Institutes of Health predoctoral training grant, a benchmark of quality in graduate programs.

A graduate of Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, and of Northwestern University, Speck trained as a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Whitehead Institute before joining the DMS faculty.

Endowed: The Carroll Professorship was endowed in 1979 in James Carroll's memory by his Dartmouth College '48 classmate Samuel Noble. Speck is the third incumbent in the chair.

Jennifer Durgin

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