CEO at Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute wins national award for research on genetics of cancer

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Mary Beckerle, CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Mary Beckerle, the CEO and director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, has won a prestigious national award given to researchers who add significant new insights to the genetic underpinnings of the disease.

The National Cancer Institute on Tuesday announced the award, which is named after Alfred G. Knudson, a U.S. physician and geneticist who helped reveal several major genetic mysteries behind cancer.

Beckerle’s research, according to the institute, has “discovered a new pathway that is critical for the ability of cells to respond to mechanical signals in their environment.” Those signals are thought to regulate cancerous cell growth and how those cells spread.

Beckerle received the award Tuesday at the National Cancer Institute’s Maryland headquarters before delivering a lecture on tumor biology.

She said in a written statement the award was a “tremendous honor,” and demonstrates how she and others at Huntsman Cancer Institute and the University of Utah have worked toward improving cancer treatments.

Beckerle is the 22nd Knudson award winner; several past recipients also were Nobel laureates.

“Dr. Beckerle’s receipt of the most outstanding genetic researcher in the United States is another indication of Utah’s greatness in the field of medical research,” Jon Huntsman Sr., founder of Huntsman Cancer Institute and chairman of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, said in a written statement.

According to Peter Huntsman, CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, the award reflects the high caliber of cancer research occurring at the Utah institute. “It’s a rare award,” he said, “and it’s internationally recognized as well.”

Beckerle has received national recognition for her expertise before, including being picked by former Vice President Joe Biden to serve on a blue-ribbon panel exploring ways to cure cancer.

Beckerle lost her job last year following an operational and funding dispute with officials at the U., but was swiftly reinstated after an uproar from faculty and the Huntsman family.

Editor’s note: Paul Huntsman, a son of Jon Huntsman Sr., is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.