MIT Professor of Economics Amy Finkelstein and Tyler Jacks, director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, were elected today to the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academies of Science.
Election to the institute is an unusual distinction for an economist. Finkelstein, whose work has illuminated the complex social effects of health care programs, is one of only two economists among the 65 new members admitted to the Institute of Medicine this year. Of the 27 current MIT faculty who have been elected to the Institute of Medicine, Finkelstein and Jonathan Gruber are the only economists.
Jacks, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology, studies the genetic events that contribute to cancer and led the transition of MIT's Cancer Research Center to the new Koch Institute, which brings scientists and engineers together to develop new ways to detect and treat cancer.
The economist is in
Finkelstein, who described herself as "pleasantly surprised" by the news, has tackled many questions surrounding health care and insurance markets. One of her most influential papers, "The Aggregate Effects of Health Insurance: Evidence from the Introduction of Medicare," published in 2007 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, outlined the complex and nuanced results of the introduction of Medicare in the United States in the 1960s.
Among other things, Finkelstein's work found that Medicare's launch was associated with increases in health care spending, including the adoption of new medical technologies, but also had positive financial effects on the program's recipients.
"A lot of people have focused on the costs of Medicare," says Finkelstein. "But there have been benefits as well." While health care is a politically charged issue in public life at the moment, Finkelstein sees her role as an economist as an effort to simply "try to uncover the facts. There are people with certain proclivities or ideologies who may look at our work a certain way, but we are trying to contribute to the state of knowledge."
Finkelstein has also written extensively on the complex ways health-insurance markets function. Currently she is part of a group of researchers from MIT and Harvard examining the effects of health care insurance that has been granted to a randomly selected group of Oregon residents.
These areas of research, she thinks, are being increasingly valued. "It's quite gratifying to the see the prominent role being played by health economists today," Finkelstein says. "Health care is medical in nature, but it's fundamentally an economic problem as well."
Finkelstein completed her PhD in MIT's Department of Economics in 2001, under the supervision of James Poterba, the Mitsui Professor of Economics. She joined the faculty in 2005 and was promoted to professor in 2008. "I'm a product of MIT," says Finkelstein. "My intellectual development and intellectual life is basically attributable to MIT."
Tracing cancer's development
Jacks said he is honored to become part of the Institute of Medicine, which advises government officials on medical issues. "It's tremendous to be recognized in this fashion, and I'm extremely grateful," says Jacks, who is now serving a one-year term as president of the American Association for Cancer Research.
Jacks has also distinguished himself as the leader of the Koch Institute. Under his guidance, the institute is moving into a new 180,000-square-foot building, scheduled to open in December 2010, which will house a unique mix of cancer biologists and engineers.
Research in Jacks' laboratory focuses on the genetic events that lead to cancer. His lab has engineered novel mouse strains that accurately mimic human cancers, allowing researchers to explore the root causes of the disease and seek potential new treatments.
The genetically engineered mice develop tumors that resemble human cancers both in their genetics and their symptoms, and are also used by labs around the world to study different types of cancer, including lung, pancreas, colon and ovarian cancers. "Our work has help to define new approaches to studying cancer in the whole animal," Jacks says.
He also studies the effects of the tumor suppressing protein p53 and its role in tumor resistance to chemotherapy.
Jacks is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has won several prizes for his cancer research, including the 2005 Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research and the 2005 Simon M. Shubitz Award.