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M. D. Anderson Visionary Looks to New Horizons

M. D. Anderson Visionary Looks to New Horizons
M. D. Anderson News Release 11/19/01

The dictionary definitions of retirement don't apply to Dr. Frederick F. Becker, who has embarked on a new chapter in a distinguished research career.

For two decades, Dr. Becker was the visionary leader most responsible for The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center earning an international reputation for productive research.  As vice president for research, he redesigned the center's research format, recruited outstanding basic scientists and department chairs, helped attract strong clinical faculty, promoted collaborative interdisciplinary research, shepherded extensive physical expansion and inspired major financial support.

When he stepped down as vice president for research in 1998, M. D. Anderson President
Dr. John Mendelsohn credited Dr. Becker for "creating the scholarly climate in which research has flourished at M. D. Anderson" and for leaving "a phenomenal legacy" of research excellence.

From 1998 until recently, Dr. Becker served as special advisor to Dr. Mendelsohn and continued many other long-time responsibilities, including chief of the Section of Experimental Pathology.  Many colleagues thought he retired on August 31 - and by traditional standards he did.

However, on October 1, Dr. Becker returned as research professor of molecular pathology and to his cherished laboratory, where he and colleagues conduct research that has far-reaching potential for cancer and other diseases.  He also is helping establish a new company to apply the research technology developed in his laboratory in concert with Dr. Peter R. Gascoyne, professor of molecular pathology.

"I have never felt more exhilarated because I can immerse myself in this exciting research with my colleagues," Dr. Becker said.

Their research combining the fields of dielectrophoresis (DEP) and microfluidics has resulted in a technology that can isolate cancer cells from normal cells in human blood and fluid samples and also characterize genes and gene products within the cells.  Instruments designed at M. D. Anderson allow the cellular components to be analyzed automatically.

Dr. Becker explained dielectrophoresis as "a physical phenomenon in which particles are moved within liquids by electrical forces that do not depend on them having their own electrical charges.  The technique induces local charges that reflect differences between the electrical properties of molecules or cells and their surroundings, and permits the structure of cells to be investigated through their intrinsic electrical properties." 

He said their research has "demonstrated proof of concept that by combining DEP and microfluidics we can isolate and characterize human cancer cells, genes and gene products.  We now are on the cusp of applying our research technology to automated diagnostic analysis that should help reduce the expensive, time-consuming, people-driven techniques currently required."

Grants from the State of Texas Advanced Research Project, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute and the Defense Advance Research Project Agency, along with private support, allowed their research to progress rapidly.  The M. D. Anderson researchers are among fewer than 10 groups worldwide investigating the potential uses of DEP and microfluidics to health and environmental problems - and the only ones exploring applications to cancer.

With Drs. Becker and Gascoyne, M. D. Anderson's Office of Technology Development is creating a company, aDEPtas, Inc., to fund translating the research and the prototype instruments into commercial use.  Dr. Becker will be the chief scientific officer for the company.

In addition to his work with Dr. Gascoyne, Dr. Becker's research includes the development of new classes of anti-tumor agents in collaboration with Dr. Bimal K. Banik, an assistant professor of molecular pathology.

Since coming to M. D. Anderson in 1976 to chair the Department of Pathology, Dr. Becker has been relentless in his quest for research excellence.  For many contributions, he received the first Presidents' Award established by Dr. Mendelsohn in honor of his two predecessors, the late Dr. R. Lee Clark and Dr. Charles A. LeMaistre.  Earlier, he had been honored with the Charles A. LeMaistre, M.D. Outstanding Achievement Award in Cancer.

Dr. Becker's international achievements were recognized by two Gold Medals of Merit in Science from the government of Thailand and the highest honor from the University of Wales, an Honorary Fellowship.  During six years on the National Cancer Advisory Board, he was an eloquent leader whose advice was widely sought while the National Cancer Institute was in a period of major transition.

A native of New York City, Dr. Becker received his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine, which gave him its Solomon A. Berson Medical Alumni Achievement Award.  Until last August, he held the Hubert L. and Olive Stringer Distinguished Chair in Basic Science at M. D. Anderson.

An honor that deeply touched him when he retired as vice president for research was creation of an endowed chair in his name.  The first occupant recently named to the Frederick F. Becker Distinguished University Chair in Cancer Research is Dr. Stanley R. Hamilton, head of the Division of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, an authority on  colorectal diseases and an international leader in the exploding field of cancer genomics. 

"I am enormously pleased that Stan Hamilton is the initial holder of my chair.  He represents the future of pathology and cancer research, bringing the advances of macromolecular analysis to diagnosis and better understanding of disease processes," Dr. Becker said.



© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center