Michael Brattain, University of Nebraska Medical Center Eppley Institute professor and associate director for basic research in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, died unexpectedly in his sleep March 5. He was 68.
“Mike was a brilliant scientist who had a prolific scientific career,” said Kenneth Cowan, director of the Eppley Institute and the Buffett Cancer Center. “Mike’s experience and input was extremely valuable to me in many areas within the Buffett Cancer Center.
“He made extensive contributions to the field of cancer research, and he will be remembered for the mentorship he provided to numerous graduate students and post-doctoral associates over the years. His sudden passing is a big loss for the Eppley Institute, the Buffett Cancer Center and the UNMC community. He will be greatly missed.”
Brattain’s laboratory studied the mechanisms for metastasis in colon cancer in order to find new targets for treatment. The research focused on the characterization of autocrine growth factors that played key roles in the regulation of cancer cell growth and dissemination including transforming growth factor alpha and transforming growth factor beta.
Brattain received his first grant award from NCI in 1978 and was continuously funded by the NCI since that time. In 2007, he was the recipient of a MERIT award from the NCI.
Since joining the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in 2007, Brattain played a key role in reorganization of cancer center programs, core facilities and faculty recruitment, Cowan said. He also devoted significant time and effort to mentoring junior faculty and training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
“Mike had an uncanny ability to recognize strengths and talents in people before they recognized them in themselves, and he gave colleagues, trainees and staff the confidence to develop and capitalize on these talents,” said Jenny Black, professor in the Eppley Institute and co-leader of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program in the Buffett Cancer Center.
Brattain and Black were colleagues at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, and he was instrumental in recruiting Black to the Buffett Cancer Center from Roswell Park in 2011.
“Although he would never take any credit for his influence, many of us will be forever grateful for the tremendous impact he has had on our professional and personal lives,” Black said.
Jenny Wang, an Eppley Institute associate professor, joined Brattain’s lab in 1992 as a graduate student.
“He has been not only my mentor, but also like a father figure to me,” Wang said. “He taught me many lessons on science and life. He has always been very supportive and encouraged me during difficult times. Without his help, I would not be who I am now. He was and will always be my role model, someone I look up to.”
Brattain began his cancer research career at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and held faculty positions at Baylor College of Medicine, Medical College of Ohio, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio Cancer Institute and Roswell Park Cancer Institute before joining the Eppley Institute faculty in 2007. He received his undergraduate degree and Ph.D. in biochemistry from Rutgers University.
Prior to being recruited to UNMC, he served as the associate director for basic research at the San Antonio Cancer Institute and senior vice president for basic research and chair of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
During his eight years at UNMC, Brattain received the UNMC Distinguished Scientist Award in 2009, the UNMC Outstanding Mentor of Graduate Students Award in 2011, and the UNMC Research Leadership Award in 2015.
A celebration of Brattain’s life and work will be held in the UNMC Eppley Science Hall Auditorium on March 25.