Prof. Zena Werb

Mar 24, 1945 — Jun 17, 2020

It is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you of the passing of Prof. Zena Werb of the United States. Prof. Werb, a revered biologist and world-renowned expert on the tumor microenvironment, passed away yesterday, June 17, 2020, at the age of 75.

Zena Werb was born in March 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, to Polish-Jewish- parents. After the war, her family immigrated to Canada, where she grew up and attended the University of Toronto. After completing her PhD at Rockefeller University in New York City, she went on to conduct postdoctoral training at the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge, UK, where she was first exposed to the fascinating world of the extracellular matrix, and particularly the enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases and their role within this complex system.

After a short stint at Dartmouth, Prof. Werb set up her lab at the University of California, San Francisco. She spent the rest of her long and accomplished career spearheading research into the role of the extracellular matrix in cell signaling and uncovering its involvement in the development of cancer. Prof. Werb mentored and cultivated many excellent biologists who later became leading figures in academia. As a pioneering female scientist, who experienced gender-based discrimination early in her career, she also became a strong advocate for promoting women in science.

Among her many honors, Prof. Werb received the UCSF Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award (2015), Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Cell Biology (2010), and the E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology (2007). She was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the US National Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Werb served as a member of the International Board of the Weizmann Institute of Science and on its Scientific and Academic Advisory Committee, both since 2012. In this capacity, she had been invited to take part in a scientific review of the field of immunology and infectious diseases, scheduled for November 2020; she gladly accepted the invitation and had already had her flights to Israel booked.

We send our sincere condolences to Zena’s extended family, friends, and loved ones for their great loss.