Professor Hopkins used genetics to map RNA tumor virus genes, identifying genes that determine host range and the type and severity of cancers mouse retroviruses cause, including capsid protein p30 and transcriptional elements now known as enhancers. Later, Hopkins developed tools for zebrafish research and devised an efficient method for large-scale insertional mutagenesis, which her lab used to identify and clone many of the genes essential for a fertilized zebrafish egg to develop into a swimming larva. These genes included known and novel genes that predispose fish to cancer.
Nancy Hopkins is an alumna of Radcliffe College, earned a PhD from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Harvard University in 1971, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She joined MIT in 1973 as an assistant professor at the Center for Cancer Research. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Hopkins chaired the committee that wrote the 1999 Report on the Status of Women Faculty in the School of Science at MIT. She is a co-founder with Sangeeta Bhatia and Susan Hockfield of the Future Founders Initiative, launched in 2020 to increase the number of female faculty members who start biotechnology companies.