April 14, 2016

Pietenpol named Executive Vice President for Research

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Molecular Oncology and Professor of Biochemistry, Cancer Biology and Otolaryngology, has been named Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). Her appointment is effective May 1.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and professor of Biochemistry, Cancer Biology and Otolaryngology, has been named Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). Her appointment is effective May 1.

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.

Pietenpol will assume this new role while continuing to serve as the Cancer Center’s director.

Pietenpol will assume a portion of the responsibilities held by Lawrence “Larry” Marnett, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, as he transitions to the newly created position of dean of Basic Sciences in the School of Medicine for Vanderbilt University (VU). In this role Marnett will report to Susan Wente, Ph.D., provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, and will oversee the basic science departments, centers and institutes that are remaining with the University after the legal separation of the University and Medical Center.

“In Dr. Pietenpol we are fortunate to have an individual with such commitment, talent and institutional experience to lead basic research in VUMC. As Cancer Center director for many years, Jennifer is world-renowned and has been successfully leading an integral part of the Medical Center. I look forward to her contributions in this new role,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“I want to thank Dr. Marnett for his leadership and substantial contributions to VUMC. The depth of his knowledge, expanded through his outstanding service as associate vice chancellor for Research, ensures the basic science departments, centers and institutes remaining with the University are in very capable hands. Jennifer and Larry are close colleagues, and as they have for many years, will continue to work together seamlessly to advance research at Vanderbilt,” Balser said.

As the Executive Vice President for Research, Pietenpol will report to Balser and will support the basic science programs in clinical departments, centers and institutes that will be housed in new VUMC. She will be responsible for leading the infrastructure that will advance much of the Medical Center’s basic research enterprise and broadly promoting research discoveries and strategic planning.

As Cancer Center director since 2008, Pietenpol has significant experience creating and growing transdisciplinary programs in patient care and research that will complement strong, ongoing leadership of VUMC’s clinical research programs by Gordon Bernard, M.D., and public and population health research programs by Robert Dittus, M.D., MPH. As Executive Vice Presidents for Research following the reorganization, they, along with Pietenpol, will continue to provide visionary leadership for the trajectory of research in new VUMC.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to play a role in sustaining and advancing research at this time of transition. I believe the relationships I’ve built and the collaborations I’ve shared across the campus can be used to the benefit of the institution and our faculty,” Pietenpol said.

“Critical to this new role is the research enterprise growing strategically in a way that seamlessly integrates and synergizes with the rest of Vanderbilt. Being able to work closely with Dr. Marnett, for whom I have the highest respect, is essential for sustaining the basic sciences infrastructure, assuring that investments continue to be made and that discoveries are advanced at an accelerated rate,” she said.

“I’ve worked with Larry for more than 20 years, as a collaborator on scientific projects within the Cancer Center and on a variety of projects and joint faculty recruitment; we have the same values. It’s great to be in a position where you know you have a trusted colleague to work with through all the opportunities.”

As director of VICC, Pietenpol has successfully renewed Vanderbilt-Ingram’s NCI designation as a comprehensive cancer center twice with exceptional merit ratings.

She also has influenced cancer policy at the national level through her service on the Institute of Medicine National Cancer Policy Forum. In 2008, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Cancer Advisory Board.

She was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Cancer Research, and serves on numerous other cancer-related scientific advisory boards including, most recently, the Blue Ribbon Panel to advise the Vice President’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

In 2012, she was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has received numerous honors for her research, most recently the Medical Research Advancement Award from the T.J. Martell Foundation.

In addition to her administrative responsibilities as a senior leader for VICC and VUMC, Pietenpol remains actively engaged as a scientist. The focus of her research is the dissection of biochemical pathways that control processes of tumor suppression, development, metabolism and aging. In particular, she has made significant contributions to understanding the role of the p53 tumor suppressor gene family in both physiology and pathophysiology. p53 is the most frequently altered cancer gene yet identified.

She was a pioneer in the analysis of p53-chromatin binding and identification of p53 target genes. Most recently, her lab discovered that one of the family members, p73, is required for multiciliated cells differentiation, and directly regulates transcriptional modulators of multiciliogenesis.

Pietenpol is also widely regarded as a prominent investigator in the pathophysiology and molecular biology of breast cancer. She has published more than 125 scientific papers and one of her seminal papers, which described the use of genomic expression signatures to define different pathophysiological subtypes of triple-negative breast cancer, has been cited more than 1,000 times since 2011.

This particular study not only added important insights to the molecular and pathophysiologic basis for this difficult-to-treat form of breast cancer, but also revealed novel targets for developing potential new treatments. These results now are being translated into clinical trials and alignment of patients to molecularly targeted therapy.

Pietenpol received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology in 1986 from Carleton College, and her Ph.D. in Cell Biology in 1990 from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. After completing a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, she accepted a faculty position at Vanderbilt in 1994.