News Release
shelley berger
Shelley L. Berger, PhD

PHILADELPHIA— World-renowned genetics researcher Shelley L. Berger, PhD, and cellular biologist M. Celeste Simon, PhD, have been named as members of the 2021 class of fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy. The AACR Academy recognizes and honors distinguished scientists whose major contributions have propelled significant innovation and progress against cancer.

Berger, the Daniel S. Och University Professor in the departments of Cell and Developmental Biology and Genetics in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and director of the Penn Epigenetics Institute, is recognized for her contributions to the fields of chromatin biology and epigenetics and identifying numerous enzymes responsible for post-translational histone modification, as well as defining epigenetic pathways in tumor suppressor biology and cancer.

Simon, the Arthur H. Rubenstein, MBBCh, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Perelman School of Medicine and scientific director of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, is recognized for her contributions to the understanding of cellular, tissue, and organismal responses to changes in oxygen availability and for defining how oxygen levels may regulate cardiovascular development, stem cell function, and tumor development, among other functions.

Fellows of the AACR Academy serve as a global brain trust of top contributors to cancer science and medicine who help advance the mission of the AACR to prevent and cure all cancers through research, education, communication, collaboration, science policy and advocacy, and funding for cancer research.

celeste simon
M. Celeste Simon, PhD

Berger also serves as a professor in department of Biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences. She is a leader in the rapidly evolving field of epigenetics, the study of changes in gene expression caused by factors other than DNA mutations. Research in her lab has uncovered numerous chromatin enzymes and addressed fundamental questions of their mechanisms in modifying both histones and DNA binding activators (such as the tumor suppressor p53) in transcription. These findings have contributed to the explosion in broad interest and focus on epigenetics in biomedical research.

Berger received the Glenn Foundation Award in Aging, the Ellison Foundation Senior Scholar Award and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Collaborative Innovator Award.  She is also an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences. Berger received the Penn Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs Distinguished Mentor Award, and the Stanley N. Cohen Biomedical Research Award from the Perelman School of Medicine.

She has published more than 225 papers and reviews in Nature, Science, Cell, Nature Genetics, and Molecular Cell, among other journals.

Simon’s research focuses on how cells sense and respond to changes in the availability of molecular oxygen and nutrients and how this impacts tumor angiogenesis, inflammation, metabolism, metastasis, and overall disease progression. She is studying both animal models and cancer patient samples with the ultimate goal of developing novel strategies to treat tumors such as pancreatic cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, and liver cancer.

In 2017, she received a National Cancer Institute Outstanding Investigator Award, which funds her basic biomedical research on cancer metabolism, specifically renal cancer. She also received the Cancer Research Foundation Young Investigator Award and the Stanley Cohen Biomedical Research Award. She was an HHMI investigator from 1994—2014 and elected to serve on the board of directors of the AACR for the 2014—2017 term and is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine and American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She has published more than 275 papers in professional journals, including Cell, Science, Nature, Cancer Discovery, Nature Genetics, and Cancer Cell.

All fellows are nominated and elected through an annual peer review process conducted by existing Fellows of the AACR Academy and ratified by the AACR Academy Steering Committee and AACR Executive Committee. The AACR will formally induct Berger, Simon, and the other fellows during its virtual annual meeting, which will be held April 9 – 14.


Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.

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