Beatrice Mintz, icon of groundbreaking research at Fox Chase Cancer Center, dies at 100
Beatrice Mintz, 100, of Philadelphia, a pioneering and award-winning researcher in developmental biology and genetics, gene transfer technology, epigenetics and tumor microenvironment, died Monday, January 3, of heart failure at her home in Elkins Park.
Even as she entered her 62nd year in Philadelphia, Dr. Mintz never officially retired. She began working at the Cancer Research Institute in 1960, remained there when it joined the Fox Chase Cancer Center in 1974, and became one of its most famous researchers.
A professor and member of the center’s cancer biology program, she held the prestigious Jack Schultz Chair in Basic Sciences from 2002 to 2019 and was known for seeking answers to what she saw as the big questions in scientific life.
Twice nominated for a Nobel Prize, she received the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association for Cancer Research, the 1997 National Medal of Honor for Basic Research from the American Cancer Society, the first Ernst Gold Medal Jung for Medicine in 1990, the first Medal of the Genetics Society of America in 1981, and many other awards and medals.
“She’s…one of those people who, if she had been a better politician, probably would have won a Nobel Prize,” John R. Durant, former chairman of Fox Chase, told The Inquirer in 1986.
Using complex laboratory procedures and technologies that she had to create because they did not exist in the 1960s and 1970s, she was one of the first scientists in the world to discover that a small number of stem cells can create a complex animal and that normal cells can be transformed into cancerous cells.
Using mice in her experiments, Dr. Mintz combined embryonic cells from genetically different stems and, by tracking the development of genetic differences, learned that stem cells create copies of themselves. This was important, Dr. Mintz said in a 2018 article in Temple Health Magazine, because it “indicated the possibility of using such cells to replace defective cells in humans.”
With regard to cancer, Dr. Mintz discovered that its growth resulted from a single cell instead of a combination of cells, and that cancer cells can be normalized if transferred and grown in a normal environment.
Given the countless other experiences, observations and accomplishments over his 75-year career, it’s hard to overstate Dr. Mintz’s contributions to research into the biology and genetics of developmental cancer, other scientists said. . They called his work ‘alien’, ‘innovative’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unparalleled’, and said his method of using animal models to study human cancer had changed modern medicine. .
“She was unique in that she was foundational in more than one area,” said Fox Chase Cancer Center director Jonathan Chernoff. “She was still productive in her 90s and was a solo act the whole time.”
Born January 24, 1921 in the Bronx, Dr. Mintz grew up poor in an Italian neighborhood. She graduated from Hunter College in New York in 1941 and received her master’s and doctorate degrees in biology from the University of Iowa.
She worked as a professor of biological sciences at the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1960 and was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 1951 to study in Paris and Strasbourg, France.
She has written hundreds of scientific articles, served on numerous editorial boards and received half a dozen honorary degrees. In 1986, Pope John Paul II asked him to work with the elite of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to research human embryonic stem cell development and other current scientific issues.
She was an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Away from the lab, Dr. Mintz wrote poetry, collected art, and sang. She was fluent in French and was particularly proud of her dancing. She lived in apartments in Elkins Park and Rittenhouse Square, and could be both “sweet as a pie” and “tangy as a cactus”, friends said.
The personalized license plate of his light blue Chevrolet in the 1980s read “GENOME.”
“If you did anything for Bea, she never forgot it and returned the favor,” her longtime friend Bob Spallone said. “She was a strong woman and could be both intimidating and very graceful.”
In 2018, she told Temple Health Magazine that while the many accolades she received were enjoyable, the primary motivation for her work was “simply pursuing a series of questions that I enjoyed answering.”
The youngest of four children, Dr. Mintz never married and had no children. She leaves to mourn several relatives. Two sisters and a brother died earlier.
She asked that no services be held and left her estate to several cancer research organizations.