January 17, 2008

Pietenpol Chosen to Lead Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Biochemistry, has been named director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Biochemistry, has been named director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Pietenpol became interim director last February and quickly emerged as a strong and respected leader with the right mix of skills for the top role, according to Harry R. Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “I am thrilled Jennifer has accepted this position,” Jacobson said. “I committed to finding the best person to lead this center and to ensure its place among the nation’s finest. I believe we’ve found that person in Jennifer. During a national search, we considered a number of very capable and strong individuals. Meanwhile, Jennifer emerged as a true star, and has demonstrated energetic and inspirational leadership. It is clear she is uniquely qualified to lead this stellar team of physicians, scientists and staff to even greater heights.” Vanderbilt-Ingram is Tennessee’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Comprehensive Cancer Centers form the foundation of cancer research and advancing cancer treatment in the United States. There are 39 such centers, judged through rigorous evaluation to be national leaders in research, treatment, education and outreach. There are only six in the Southeast. “I am honored to take on this role,” Pietenpol said. “We have tremendous depth of talent and dedication among our faculty and staff. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to bring together the strengths of so many people for what I would argue is one of the most important goals – to make a difference in the lives of cancer patients. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone on the team has what they need to continue their outstanding work.” When she accepted the interim role, Pietenpol committed to sustain and build on Vanderbilt-Ingram’s momentum, and over the past year, the Cancer Center has logged a number of key accomplishments. These include edging up to seventh place in competitive funding from the NCI and becoming a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Pietenpol has overseen the center’s expansion, which will double the capacity of the cancer outpatient clinic and chemotherapy infusion center, and she has worked closely with other leaders in the ongoing development of a new strategic vision for cancer care. “The cancer field has made great progress,” she said. “The decline in cancer deaths across the country continues. That’s good news, but we still have a lot to do. Tennessee is one of seven contiguous states with the highest cancer death rates. We are one of only two Comprehensive Cancer Centers in these states, and as such, it is our obligation to focus our work where we can make the most impact. Until those outcomes change significantly, our jobs are not done.” A member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1994, Pietenpol has served as the center’s associate director for basic science and translational research programs since 2002. She is a past program leader for Signal Transduction and Cell Proliferation, one of seven research programs in the center. “While Dr. Pietenpol’s own training is in basic science, she has a remarkable understanding and appreciation for the clinical arena, particularly the all-critical relationship between great patient care and first-rate research discovery,” said Wright Pinson, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Medical Affairs and chief medical officer. Pietenpol received her doctoral degree in cell biology from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1990, and then joined the laboratory of Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center (now the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins). In 1994, Pietenpol returned to Vanderbilt to join the faculty and soon after received a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Award for her research in the areas of cancer biology and toxicology. Her own research focuses on tumor suppressor and cell cycle checkpoint signaling pathways in normal cells and how these pathways malfunction in tumor cells. The ultimate aim of her work is to define molecular changes that occur frequently in tumor cells and to use these alterations as targets for treatment. Currently, Pietenpol’s laboratory is funded by the NCI, the Department of Defense and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 39 in the country and the only one in Tennessee to earn this highest distinction. Its nearly 300 faculty members generate more than $130 million in annual federal research funding, ranking it among the top 10 centers in the country in competitive grant support, and its clinical program sees approximately 4,000 new cancer patients each year. Vanderbilt-Ingram, based in Nashville, Tenn., recently joined with 21 of the world’s leading centers in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a non-profit alliance dedicated to improving cancer care for patients everywhere. For more information, visit