Millikan honored with posthumous Alumni Achievement Award from UC-Davis

The late Robert Craft Millikan will be honored with a 2013 Alumni Achievement Award from the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine during the School's commencement ceremony on June 14.

Until his death in October 2012, Dr. Millikan was the Barbara Sorenson Hulka Distinguished Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the molecular epidemiology facility core at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility.

Dr. Millikan received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from UC-Davis in 1984 before pursuing Master of Public Health and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1991 and 1993, respectively. His alma mater will honor him for "his groundbreaking work as a genetic epidemiologist in discovering the causes of breast cancer and for determining the populations of women at greatest risk," noting that his discoveries "aided in the understanding of why certain chemotherapeutic drugs were effective only in certain subgroups of women."

He had a particular interest in studying breast cancer and health disparities in African-American women, who have diminished access to health care and poorer medical outcomes than other ethnic groups. His seminal findings, published in more than 100 papers, and his work through the Carolina Breast Cancer Study changed the face of breast cancer disparities research. He spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at University College Dublin and was listed by MAMMmagazine, a publication dedicated to serving the needs of women with breast and reproductive tract cancers, as one of the "Fifty Who Made a Difference in Breast Cancer Research."

In 2011, he was awarded a $19.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, for an ambitious study of breast cancer in young African-American women. He was also a lead investigator for UNC's Specialized Program of Research Excellence in Breast Cancer (SPORE), which recently was renewed by the NCI for $10 million over the next five years. 

Dr. Millikan was a much-loved and well-respected teacher at UNC and at the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine, and he influenced a generation of students studying molecular and genetic epidemiology. He co-authored a chapter on genetic epidemiology in Rothman, Greenland and Lash's Modern Epidemiology, a definitive textbook on the topic. 

"There is scarcely an aspect of molecular breast cancer research today that does not have his indelible mark on it," said Philip Kass, DVM, PhD, professor of population health and reproduction at the UC-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, in his nomination letter.

The Alumni Achievement Award, first presented in 1979, is the highest honor bestowed by the veterinary medicine school to recognize alumni who have made outstanding personal and professional contributions to veterinary science, practice or the advancement of human welfare. 

A profile of Dr. Millikan is available on the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center website. The Gillings School of Global Public Health also maintains a memorial site for him.

Date: June 11, 2013