Dr. Birrer earned his undergraduate degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and graduated with a BS in Biology. He subsequently was accepted into the Medical Scientist Training Program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and completed his M.D. and Ph.D. in 1982 with his principle area of study in microbiology and immunology. He performed a medical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and subsequently completed a residency in medicine at MGH. Dr. Birrer entered the medical oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and upon completion performed a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. John Minna on the molecular genetics of lung cancer. After completing his fellowship, Dr. Birrer joined the faculty at the NCI in the Division of Cancer Treatment as an investigator in 1988. Three years later, Dr. Birrer was appointed as a senior investigator (with tenure) and established the molecular mechanism section in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. Over the next 17 years, Dr. Birrer held a number of positions including the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, Gynecologic Oncology Tumor Board, Extramural IRB, Clinical Oncology Fellowship Section Committee, Chair of the Gynecologic Oncology Working Group in the Division of Clinical Sciences and Deputy Branch Chief of the Cell and Cancer Biology Branch.
Dr. Birrer is recognized nationally and internationally as an expert in gynecologic oncology. He has published over 270 peer reviewed manuscripts and another 27 book chapters and review articles. He has served in leadership positions within the greater gynecologic oncology community. He has been the Chair and Chair Emeritus of the DOD Ovarian Cancer Research Program, Chair of the Committee for Experimental Medicine of the Gynecologic Oncology Group, a member of the Gynecologic Cancer Steering Committee and Chair of the Translational Science Working Group of the Gynecologic Cancer Intergroup. Dr. Birrer has been a member of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncologists, American Association of Cancer Research and the International Gynecologic Cancer Society. He has been on the program committees of ASCO, SGO and IGCS.
In November 2008, Dr. Birrer was appointed Professor of Medicine at the Harvard School of Medicine. Dr. Birrer assumed the position of Director of Gynecologic Medical Oncology at MGH and the Gynecologic Oncology Research Program. This program integrates important new discoveries in translational research into clinical trials.
In August 2017, Dr. Birrer accepted the position of Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology-Oncology and holds the Evalina B. Spencer Chair in Oncology.