Margaret “Peggy” Wallace, Ph.D., a professor in the department of molecular genetics and microbiology in the University of Florida College of Medicine, has received an award from the Children’s Tumor Foundation in recognition of her significant contributions to neurofibromatosis research.
Wallace, a member of the UF Health Cancer Center’s Mechanisms of Oncogenesis research program and the UF Genetics Institute, has devoted her 35-year career to advancing treatment for the rare genetic condition. She received the Friedrich von Recklinghausen Award at the foundation’s annual global conference this summer in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The award is named for von Recklinghausen, the German physician who in 1882 first described von Recklinghausen’s disease, now known as neurofibromatosis type 1, or NF1. Neurofibromatosis is a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors on nerve tissue. Although usually benign, it can cause complications, including disfigurement or cancer, and has no known cure.
“I am extremely honored and thrilled to receive this award that has tremendous significance and meaning in my field,” Wallace said. “It’s very heartwarming to be recognized by my peers, many of whom I’ve known for more than 30 years. I’m still somewhat speechless, given the people who have gotten it before me.”
Wallace received the award at a dinner hosted by the foundation for researchers, patients and families affected by neurofibromatosis.
NF1 is caused by mutations in the NF1 tumor suppressor, a large complex gene whose protein is not well understood. The NF1 gene can mutate in various types of cancer, even in people who do not have the genetic condition. Wallace’s laboratory studies NF1, using a large set of patient samples and data.
The Children’s Tumor Foundation, the largest private funder of NF research worldwide, noted Wallace has “numerous groundbreaking research papers and is the prime example of teamwork and open sharing.”
Wallace created the first openly available NF immortalized cell lines and shipped these valuable research tools to researchers all over the world, the foundation said. For more than 15 years, she co-chaired the Young Investigator program, which has funded nearly 200 researchers.
In 2019, the foundation selected Wallace as a Medical Humanitarian Honoree for her work with patients and families. She has recruited more than 250 patients with neurofibromatosis and family members who have donated samples for research.
Wallace said she was particularly honored to be recognized for her approach to science, which prioritizes open collaboration and sharing.
“Success from a collaborator is my success too, and it moves research forward faster,” she said. “Getting this type of acknowledgment really does light your fire to keep pushing forward.”