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Discovering the causes of cancer and the means of prevention

Margaret Tucker Retires from DCEG

Posted on June 04, 2018

Peggy Tucker

In June 2018, Margaret "Peggy" Tucker, M.D., Director of the DCEG Human Genetics Program, retired after 40 years of service to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Tucker led a superbly productive program of epidemiologic and interdisciplinary studies with innovative clinical and laboratory components. Her landmark scientific contributions have substantively improved our understanding of the mechanisms underlying familial cancers and predisposition to multiple malignancies.

“Peggy’s service to the NCI and NIH has been extraordinary,” said DCEG Director Stephen J. Chanock, M.D. “Her epidemiologic, genetic, and clinical skills, as well as her compassion, wisdom, and patience as a leader, have made a lasting impact on our research program.”

A graduate of Wellesley College, Dr. Tucker received her M.D. from Harvard Medical School and completed training in internal medicine and medical oncology at Stanford University Medical Center. She joined NIH in 1978 as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS). From the establishment of DCEG as a Division, Dr. Tucker has been instrumental in the scientific management of its research programs. She served as Chief of the Family Studies Section of the Environmental Epidemiology Branch from 1987-1992, Chief of the Genetic Epidemiology Branch (GEB) from 1992-2011, Director of the Human Genetics Program since 2005, and Acting Director of DCEG between 2012-2013.

As Chief of GEB, Dr. Tucker guided the Branch’s work in the identification of the clinical features of patients carrying pathogenic variants in several major cancer susceptibility genes, including NF1 and NF2 (neurofibromatosis types I and II), BRCA1 and BRCA2 (breast and ovarian cancers), PTEN (Cowden’s disease, with breast cancer), TP53 (Li-Fraumeni syndrome), and PTCH (nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome). These discoveries have allowed scientists to explore the underlying molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis in these disorders.

Dr. Tucker has been at the forefront of melanoma research over the past four decades and is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading genetic epidemiologists. Her research team and collaborators identified the first major susceptibility genes for melanoma (CDKN2A and CDK4) and developed clinical guidelines for the care of high-risk individuals, including training videos. They published an atlas of lesions in melanoma-prone families in 2002, and more recently launched a website with the first-ever serial collection of dysplastic nevi and melanomas, documenting skin changes over nearly four decades of clinical follow-up. In addition, Dr. Tucker developed a web-based calculator to estimate an individual’s risk of developing melanoma.

Dr. Tucker also pioneered research on the late adverse effects of cancer therapy. She played a major role in the first epidemiologic studies in the 1980s demonstrating that both chemotherapy and radiotherapy contribute to risk of subsequent leukemia and solid malignancies. Her rigorous approach – carefully documenting the complex, cumulative therapeutic exposures patients received – laid the foundation for later large-scale epidemiologic studies, particularly of childhood cancer survivors, in the United States and Europe. 

“Peggy’s major discoveries in genetic susceptibility to cancer as well as late adverse effects of therapy have substantially impacted the care and surveillance of many cancer patients,” said Robert Hoover, M.D., Sc.D., Director of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program.

As Director of the Human Genetics Program, Dr. Tucker has been responsible for the scientific and administrative direction of a broad interdisciplinary program of family-based and population-based studies across the Integrative Tumor Epidemiology and Clinical Genetics Branches as well as the Laboratory of Translational Genomics. She has also played a role in overseeing the NCI Cancer Genomics Research Laboratory.

Dr. Tucker is the recipient of many prestigious awards recognizing her exceptional scientific contributions, including the PHS Distinguished Service Medal, the Oncology Nursing Society/Adria Excellence in Publication Award in Clinical Practice, the International Association of Business Communicators DC Metro Chapter Silver Inkwell Award for “Anyone Can Get Skin Cancer,” an NIH Director’s Award, an NIH Merit Award, the NIH Plain Language Award, the NCI Outstanding Mentor Award, the inaugural DCEG Exemplary Service Award, and was a General Motors Visiting Professor. At the recent DCEG Town Hall Meeting, she received a DCEG Special Appreciation Award to recognize her 40 years of tremendous service to the Division.

Dr. Tucker’s tireless dedication to NCI and the broader research community is widely recognized. She has generously given her time to innumerable requests for service on various committees and working groups. The author of more than 300 publications, as well as approximately 50 editorials, commentaries, and book chapters, she has served on several editorial boards for leading scientific journals.

“Peggy has a remarkable track record of scientific accomplishment, compassionate clinical care, and selfless service,” said Joseph F. Fraumeni, Jr., M.D., Scientist Emeritus, DCEG. “Her inspired leadership and mentoring along with her tireless advocacy for women scientists have paved the way for the next generation of researchers across the Division and beyond.”

She has been an enduring champion for both women and men in science. During her stellar career, Dr. Tucker initiated and expanded numerous projects that she subsequently gave to junior scientists to help further their growth and development into successful principal investigators. As an exemplary clinician, she has shared her medical expertise and insights with many junior clinicians, enabling them to establish their own clinical careers.

“It is difficult to find a DCEG scientist whose career or scientific development has not been assisted by Dr. Tucker’s generosity and selflessness, directly or indirectly, through advice, encouragement, support, guidance, and opportunities,” said Lindsay Morton, Ph.D., a senior investigator in DCEG’s Radiation Epidemiology Branch and one of Dr. Tucker’s mentees. “She is an irreplaceable mentor and role model to me and many others.”

Dr. Tucker remains committed to DCEG. Recently named as a Scientist Emerita by the NIH Scientific Directors, she plans to continue providing crucial scientific advice for ongoing studies in several important research areas, mentor junior investigators, and offer valuable management insights to DCEG’s leadership team.