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René Bernards, PhD

René Bernards, PhD

The Netherlands Cancer Institute
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Class of 2018

An internationally lauded cancer researcher, Dr. Bernards is widely known for his fundamental contributions to the fields of genetics and molecular biology, for the identification of drug combinations, and for the development of breast cancer diagnostic screening tests. Dr. Bernards’ early research proved that select adenoviruses are capable of exhibiting oncogenic properties by selectively silencing MHC class I antigen expression, resulting in aberrant T cell and immune system activation. He would further demonstrate that proto-oncogenes such as the MYCN gene function similarly in diseases such as neuroblastoma by downregulating MHC class I antigen expression.

Building upon these observations, Dr. Bernards expanded his research to investigating cell cycle regulation in cancer, which led him to clone and characterize the E2F-4 and E2F-5 transcription factors. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that these proteins can interact with p107 and p130 tumor suppressors to mediate cell cycle arrest. Dr. Bernards was also the first to develop a shRNA vector to silence genes in mammalian cells. From this work, he created a genome-scale library of shRNA vectors which have since been used to identify biomarkers of treatment response and determine effective therapeutic combinations.

Dr. Bernards has conducted numerous studies dedicated to synthetic lethality and the identification of effective drug combinations for various cancers. His efforts have demonstrated the effectiveness of BRAF and EGFR inhibitor combinations for colon cancer as well as HER and MEK inhibitor combinations for cancers that present with KRAS mutations. These results have since led to the launch of various clinical trials dedicated to evaluating such drug combinations as cancer therapy options. Equally important has been Dr. Bernards’ development of the MammaPrint Breast Recurrence Assay. This pioneering diagnostic test consists of a 70-gene signature panel used to identify and stratify individuals at risk for developing early-stage breast cancer, in turn allowing for the development of personalized cancer prevention and treatment plans.

Career Highlights

2019 International Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2017 Elected Member, Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge Advisory Panel
2013 Academy Professor Prize, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
2012 Queen Wilhelmina Research Prize, Dutch Cancer Society
2009 Elected Fellow, European Academy of Cancer Sciences
2007 Lifetime Achievement Award in Translational Research in Breast Cancer, European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO)
2007 Elected Member, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
2005 Spinoza Prize, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
2005 Pezcoller Foundation-European School of Oncology Recognition for Contribution to Oncology, European Cancer Organisation (ECCO)
2005 Elected Member, Academia Europea, London, U.K.
2004 Josephine Nefkens Prize for Cancer Research, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands
1992 Pionier Award, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research
1989 Searle Scholar, The Chicago Community Trust
1988 Scholar Award, Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr Foundation
1985 Constantijn and Christiaan Huygens Fellowship, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research