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Mark Greene Retires From DCEG

, by DCEG Staff

Mark H. Greene, M.D., senior principal investigator in the Clinical Genetics Branch (CGB), will retire from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) after 33 years of distinguished service at the end of 2019. As the inaugural chief of CGB, Dr. Greene initiated a unique research program of multidisciplinary studies on hereditary syndromes and cancer to leverage clinical observations into novel etiologic insights. As an investigator, Dr. Greene devoted his career to the study of genetic modifiers of cancer risk and treatment outcomes in hereditary cancers and to intervention studies in genetically at-risk populations.

In 1975, Dr. Greene came to the NCI as a staff fellow in the Environmental Epidemiology Branch in the Division of Cancer Etiology and became a senior investigator two years later. He and his collaborators identified and characterized the dysplastic nevus as a key precursor to melanoma and published the first full-color atlas of these lesions. Families from this study played a critical role in the discovery of the melanoma susceptibility genes CDKN2A and CDK4. Dr. Greene established a cohort of hereditary breast/ovarian cancer families and was the first to report primary peritoneal carcinoma in high-risk family members who had undergone risk-reducing oophorectomy, a finding that presaged the recognition that ovarian cancer often originates in the fallopian tube. Dr. Greene also co-led a series of studies that quantified the risks of acute leukemia associated with anti-neoplastic agents, the results of which had major implications for clinical use of these drugs. 

After leaving government for private practice in hematology and medical oncology in 1985, Dr. Greene returned to serve as Branch Chief of the newly-formed CGB in 1999. He served as Chief of CGB for 14 years and received an NIH Merit Award for the creation, growth, and leadership of an outstanding intramural program in Clinical Genetics within the NCI.

“As the founder of the Clinical Genetics Branch and a selfless mentor, Dr. Greene has made seminal discoveries in clinical cancer genetics and ensured the NCI will continue to lead in this field for years to come,” said Sharon A. Savage, M.D., DCEG Clinical Director and Branch Chief of CGB.

Dr. Greene was pivotal in the launch of many hereditary breast/ovarian cancer studies such as the National Ovarian Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Study (GOG-0199), a unique collaboration between DCEG, the Gynecologic Oncology Group, and the Cancer Genetics Network to assess outcomes of high-risk women who chose either risk-reducing surgery or screening to manage their ovarian cancer risk. Results from this study have helped to inform clinical management decisions among women at high-risk of ovarian cancer. Dr. Greene received an NIH Merit Award for outstanding leadership of this project.

He also developed and directed CGB’s Familial Testicular Cancer (FTC) Study which investigates the genetic causes of testicular cancer through studies of multiple-case families. This family cohort established testicular microlithiasis as a testicular cancer risk factor, quantified the prospective risk of FTC, and implicated CHEK2 as an FTC risk allele. His collaborations with several international consortia led to the recognition of FTC as a polygenic disorder, including multiple genome-wide association study analyses which, to date, have identified 54 testicular cancer risk loci. In 2019, he and his colleagues received an NCI Director’s Award for outstanding research contributions to the genetic and clinical epidemiology of familial testicular germ cell tumors.

More recently, Dr. Greene initiated the investigation of myotonic dystrophy (DM) as a potential cancer susceptibility syndrome, based on clinical observations. He and his colleagues subsequently reported that DM patients experience twice the cancer risk as those in the general population. Ongoing studies are characterizing the DM-related cancer phenotype and investigating the underlying biology which might account for cancer susceptibility in these patients. 

In addition to his impressive research program, Dr. Greene has served on multiple working groups within the NCI including serving as Editor in Chief of the NCI PDQ Cancer Genetics Editorial Board. He worked tirelessly to mentor more than 33 individuals and recruited outstanding scientific staff. In 2003, these efforts were recognized with a DCEG Mentor of the Year Award.

“As chief of CGB, Mark spearheaded projects which advanced our understanding of the etiology of familial cancers, resulting in clinically-meaningful recommendations for patients seeking preventive care, and yielding avenues of investigation for cancer risk in the general population. His exceptional leadership and collaborative spirit will be missed,” said Stephen J. Chanock, M.D., Director of DCEG.

Dr. Greene earned his medical degree from Tufts University in 1970 and completed residency in Internal Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He joined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1972 as an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer before coming to the NCI. Dr. Greene completed his medical oncology fellowship in the Medicine Branch at the NCI and became board-certified in both Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology. Following his retirement, Dr. Greene will serve as Scientist Emeritus to the Division.

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