The Ruth Sager Memorial Lecture is given each year by a leading Cancer Researcher to honor

Ruth Sager, Ph.D. (1918 -1997)

Ruth was born and raised near Chicago, and majored in biology at the University of Chicago, graduating in 1938. She was then intensely involved in the Zionist movement, worked on a Farm during World War II, and obtained an M.S. at Rutgers in 1944. She received her Ph.D. with Marcus Rhoades at Columbia in 1949, performed research at Rockefeller University, and then at Columbia. Faculty appointments were rare for women at that time, so only in 1966 did she become Professor at Hunter College. In 1975 she was one of the first woman Full Professors at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Ruth had two distinguished research careers. First, in the face of universal skepticism she almost alone established cytoplasmic (organelle) genetics. She constructed the first genetic map of choroplast genes, found their DNA, and its uniparental methylation as a basis for non-Mendelian inheritance. Her final 25 years were devoted to investigations of genetics of cancer. Among many major contributions, she developed cell lines suitable for comparing normal and cancer cells, and championed the major role of chromosomal rearrangements, accelerated evolution, requirement of more than one mutation, and tumor suppressors in addition to oncogenes. She proposed the field of 'expression genetics' and discovered numerous novel genes whose expression is altered in cancers, such as maspin. Ruth worked to the end, publishing important articles and obtaining an NIH Grant in the month of her death. She was a wise and caring mentor to many colleagues who continue to develop her research.

Ruth received numerous honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship, memberships in the National Academy of Sciences which gave her the Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine. She was Alumna Medalist of the University of Chicago and received the Princess Takamatsu (Japan), University of Liege (Belgium), and Australian clinical oncology society's awards.

Ruth's interests beyond science included art, music, theater, tennis, and much else. She had a strong personality, knew what she wanted and usually got it. She was described in her fifties as "a calmly articulate and attractive woman (who looks younger by about 15 years) …a tall, striking brunette with a ready smile and a voice that carries a merry lilt". She early described herself as a "probably the happiest person I know".

Ruth died at 79 of bladder cancer. She is buried in Woods Hole where she had a beloved summer home. The Ruth Sager Lectures in Cancer Research honor her memory.

Past Ruth Sager Symposia or Lectures:


  • Vimla Band: Molecular Mechanisms of Breast Epithelial Cell Immortalization
  • Arthur B. Pardee: The Tumor Suppressor Maspin Interacts with Tissue Plasminogen Activator
  • Katherine J. Martin: Gene Expression Changes in Breast Cancer


  • Barbara Smith: Biology of Breast Cancer, Clues from the Clinic
  • Debajit K. Biswas: Hormone-Regulated and Hormone Unregulated Pathways of Breast Cancers
  • Heide L. Ford: HSIX: A Novel Gene Overexpressed in Metastatic Breast Cancer


  • Mary Hendrix: The Multiple Roles of Maspin
  • Alan d’Andrea: Inherited Chromosome Instability and Cancer
  • Carol Rosenberg: Genetic Abnormalities Early in Breast Carcinogenesis


  • I. Bernard Weinstein: Gene Addiction in Cancer - an Exploitable Target for Chemoprevention and Therapy
  • Debajit Kumar Biswas: Role of NF-KB in Life and Death of Cancer Cells
  • Andre D. Rosowsky: Studies on Novel Analogs of Aminopterin: Can an Old Dog Still Hunt?


  • William G. Kaelin, Jr.: von Hippel-Lindau Disease: Implications for Cancer and Ischemic Disorders
  • Randall W. King: Chemical Approaches to Understanding Mitosis
  • William C. Hahn: Senescence, Cooperation, and Human Cell Transformation


  • Alfred Goldberg: Proteasomes and host defense against cancer: from new insights to novel therapies
  • Gary Stein: Intranuclear organization and assembly of transcriptional regulatory machinery: Implications for biological control and cancer


  • Joan Bruggee: Modeling Breast Cancer in 3D Cultures


  • Robert A. Weinberg: Mechanisms of Malignant Tumor Progression


  • Patricia Steeg:  A molecular portrait of brain metastasis of breast cancer


  • Michael F. Clarke  What can we learn from the prospective identification of cancer stem cells?