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Special symposium to honor Moses’ cancer research contributions is Oct. 11

Sep. 21, 2017, 9:34 AM

The symposium honoring the career of Harold (Hal) Moses, M.D., is set for Wednesday, Oct. 11. (photo by Anne Rayner)

A research symposium honoring the career of Harold (Hal) Moses, M.D., who founded and served as director emeritus of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, has been slated for Wednesday, Oct. 11, 7:45 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., at the Vanderbilt Student Life Center.

The free symposium will feature a roster of renowned cancer researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and around the country who will discuss the ways in which Moses’ cancer research has impacted the field. Many of those researchers were mentored by, or worked alongside, Moses, who has been lauded for his ability to instill his commitment to rigorous scientific research in the next generation of investigators.

Moses has had a remarkable career as an internationally known cancer researcher, professor and administrator. A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), he has spent the last 32 years at VUMC, where he operated a research laboratory that was continuously funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) until he closed the lab in early 2016. He made sure that all of his postdoctoral and graduate students and senior research specialists were settled in new careers before making the move.

“It’s a little difficult but I’m 79 years old and I’ve run a laboratory for over 50 years,” said Moses, who transitioned to emeritus status as Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Cancer Biology, Medicine, and Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology in August.

He will continue as a research professor in Pharmacology and maintain his leadership role in the U54 Partners in Eliminating Cancer Disparities Grant, a collaborative cancer research effort among VICC, Meharry Medical College, and Tennessee State University, which is funded by the NCI.

Moses grew up in a mining town in eastern Kentucky before his family moved to a small farm nearby. A local doctor suggested that the bright young boy pursue a career in medicine “because you can make a good living and help people while doing it.”

After graduating from Berea College in Kentucky and VUSM, he accepted a Public Health Service commission in 1965 and set up his first research lab at the National Institutes of Health. Three years later, he was offered an assistant professorship at VUMC, where he began to study methods to chemically induce transformation of cells in culture.

In 1973, he moved to the Mayo Clinic, where he spent 12 years, eventually being named chair of the Department of Cell Biology. In the early 1980s, he and his colleagues made one of the most important discoveries in cell biology when they purified “transforming growth factor” (TGF-beta).

They determined that TGF-beta could stimulate cells to grow and also assist cancer cells to metastasize to distant locations. They realized that the growth factor also could play a contradictory role by inhibiting cell growth. Moses called the protein the “Jekyll and Hyde of cancer.”

Before long, Vanderbilt came calling again, this time inviting Moses to build a new Department of Cell Biology.

“Over the 13 years I was chair we recruited 20 new faculty and brought up the rating for the funding of competitive NIH grants. We were 34th when I came and fourth when I stepped down. It’s now No. 1,” Moses said.

By 1992, Moses’ ability to envision and then build a new scientific enterprise led to his appointment as the director of the newly established Vanderbilt Cancer Center. Within 2.5 years, the cancer center received its first support grant from the NCI and a designation as a clinical cancer center.

In 2001, the renamed Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) was recognized as an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a status that it maintains today.

Moses stepped aside as VICC director in 2005 but continued his leadership on the world cancer stage, serving as president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI), co-chair of the NCI Progress Review Group and chair of the NCI Cancer Centers review panel.

As he moves into his new emeritus roles, Moses recently reflected on his career.

“I’m most proud of the success of people who got research training in my lab. I’ll have to admit it also was gratifying to receive the invitations to give so many talks. I’ve given talks in 42 of the 50 states and 22 foreign countries — 450 talks altogether.”

And the significance of the TGF-beta discovery continues to play a significant role in cancer research.

“If you do a PubMed search of TGF and beta you get 80,000 hits,” Moses said.

To reserve a seat at the symposium, register by Oct. 2 at

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