Dr. Charlotte Friend was a virologist and cancer researcher whose research helped to change the way we think about cancer in humans. Earning her doctorate in 1950 from Yale University she was already working in the lab at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City. It was just six years later when she presented her first major discovery at the annual meeting for the American Association for Cancer Research.
When she first began looking into animal cancer viruses, most scientists were dismissive of the idea that viruses might be involved in human cancers. By discovering a virus that causes leukemia in mice in 1956, which was named the Friend leukemia virus, she created an important tool for study of the relationships between animal cancers and viruses. The FLV has been so important to modern cancer research it is the focus of an entire chapter of Oncogenic Viruses, a definitive text on cancer virus research.
In 1966 she was the first and only female full Professor at the newly formed Mount Sinai School of Medicine as well as the first Director of the Center for Experimental Cell Biology at the school. With two coauthors Dr. Friend published a second landmark paper in 1971 detailing research on leukemia cells that had been made to take another step in the maturation process to become erythroid cells, which effectively stops their cancer-like multiplication. Friend’s erythroleukemia cells became an important tool for research into the regulation and control of cell proliferation and differentiation. This technique has the potential for being a new type of cancer treatment and is still being studied today.
During her career she published over 160 papers with at least 70 where she was the lone author or with only one coauthor. Dr. Friend passed away in 1987 after having been diagnosed with lymphoma five year previously, a diagnosis she kept to herself in order to continue her work in the lab. The techniques and characterization studies she developed helped to set the foundations for the study of retroviruses and would allow for the future isolation of the human immunodeficiency virus.
Written by Angela Goad