October 6, 2011

Matrisian accepts role with cancer advocacy group

Matrisian accepts role with cancer advocacy group

Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D.

Lynn Matrisian, Ph.D.

Harold L. “Hal” Moses, M.D.

Harold L. “Hal” Moses, M.D.

Harold L. “Hal” Moses, M.D., former director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, will serve as the department’s acting chair beginning January 1, 2012.

Founded in 1999, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is a nonprofit patient-based advocacy organization fighting pancreatic cancer through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure.

Since 2003, the organization has funded more than $10 million in research grants to scientists who are studying the biology of the disease, its causes and potential treatment options to improve patient survival.

“I have been committed to cancer research at many levels – the bench, the laboratory, the department, as the president of the American Association for Cancer Research, and through work at the National Cancer Institute,” said Matrisian.

“I feel like it is time to take these activities to a new level and am intrigued by the opportunity to make a difference in a disease in which the five-year survival rate has been below 6 percent for more than 40 years.”

Matrisian said the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is very forward-thinking and is one of the cancer organizations that, along with giving grants to scientists, is very involved in national policy. They also have an active patient liaison program and an extensive community of grassroots volunteers across the country.

“I think the future of cancer research will rely more and more on private funding,” Matrisian explained. “It is where there is a sense of urgency, and the means and ability to respond to changes rapidly. I was particularly attracted to this organization because they have all of the elements necessary for success but they are still streamlined and innovative enough to try new things. I am excited about the possibilities.”

Matrisian began her Vanderbilt career in 1986 as an assistant professor of Cell Biology and was recently recognized for 25 years of service to Vanderbilt. In 2000, Matrisian became the founding chair of the newly-created Department of Cancer Biology.

The department has grown to 13 faculty members whose research efforts have been published in high-impact journals.

In addition to her administrative duties, Matrisian runs a research laboratory and has trained 15 graduate students and 24 postdoctoral fellows. Her laboratory is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie cancer development, with special emphasis on matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). These enzymes have been associated with tumor growth and metastasis.

“Lynn is nationally recognized as an innovative thinker in cancer research and she has been a wonderful mentor to many of us here at Vanderbilt,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., director of VICC.

“She has contributed greatly to the Cancer Center as both an associate director for Cancer Education and a leader of the Host-Tumor Interactions Program, as well as the first leader of the Breast Cancer Program.”

She has been a prolific researcher, with nearly 250 published papers in scientific journals, and recently held a leadership post as a Special Assistant to the National Cancer Institute director, developing ways to make the national translational cancer research effort more efficient.

“Lynn has provided outstanding leadership in research and education as an academic chair and has contributed to Vanderbilt’s growing reputation as a national leader in scientific discovery,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Sciences.

The realization that foundations are likely to play a critical role in translational cancer research recently led Matrisian to enroll in the executive MBA program at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management. She saw the leadership post at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as the next logical step.

After such a long career at Vanderbilt, Matrisian has mixed emotions about moving on but she is grateful to the Vanderbilt leaders who have supported her.

“I want to particularly acknowledge Hal Moses’ important role in giving me opportunities and being a role model and a mentor,” said Matrisian.

“I’m very pleased with the support that I’ve received from the Vanderbilt leadership through the years as we built and expanded the Department of Cancer Biology. I am so proud of the fabulous team of great people in Cancer Biology, and it makes it a little easier knowing that they will capitalize on and continue to advance our important departmental efforts in cancer research and training.

“I’m especially gratified that some of the research in my laboratory will continue. Drs. Barbara Fingleton and Oliver McIntyre, in particular, will build upon the work we have accomplished through the years and take it in new and better directions.”

She will remain chair of the department until the end of the year, and then turn over leadership to Moses.