Mina J. Bissell, Ph.D., is an Iranian American biologist and a world-recognized leader in the area of the role of extracellular matrix (ECM) and microenvironment in regulation of tissue-specific function, with special emphasis on breast cancer.
She was born in Tehran, Iran and brought up in a well-educated and well-to-do family. By the time she graduated from high school, Bissell was the top graduate in her year in Iran. A family friend, through the American Friends of Iran, encouraged Bissell to come to the United States. She enrolled at Bryn Mawr, then transferred to Radcliffe, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She obtained a PhD in bacteriology from Harvard Medical School and was awarded an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley.
She joined Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as a staff biochemist in 1972 and subsequently became a Senior Scientist, Director of Cell & Molecular Biology, Director of the Life Sciences Division, and Distinguished Scientist. In 1996, she received the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award and medal, the highest scientific honor bestowed by the United States Department of Energy. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, Bissell was recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Mellon Award from the University of Pittsburgh, the Eli Lilly/Clowes Award of the American Association for Cancer Research, and the Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society.
She is the former head of biology at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Her work started over 30 years ago on the effect of tissue architecture and the role of the cellular microenvironment on cancer still has become increasingly influential in the field of cancer biology and cancer therapeutics. She is credited with the radical but increasingly accepted notion that phenotype can dominate over genotype in normal development and disease.
Bissell and her colleague, William Ole Peterson, have developed 3D culture in cancer research. They have showed non-tumorgenic(normal like) mammary epithelial cells form monolayer spherical acini with hollow lumen and tumorgenic mammary epithelial cells form filled bowl irregular acini (Petersen OW, et al. PNAS 89(19):9064-9068 ). She has published about 300 articles and book chapters.