February 2, 2007

Pietenpol interim VICC director

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Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D.
(photo by Dean Dixon)

Pietenpol interim VICC director

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., has been selected to lead the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center as interim director.

Pietenpol, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Biochemistry, will guide the center while a national search is under way for a successor to Ray DuBois, M.D., Ph.D. DuBois will leave Vanderbilt later this year to become provost and executive vice president at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. VUMC officials expect a successor to be identified by summer.

“Jennifer was one of the first scientists to be recruited into the Cancer Center, and she has proven herself to be a star ever since,” said Harry Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “I believe that she is uniquely positioned to provide the leadership and direction to keep the Cancer Center moving forward as we search nationally for the best person to become our next Cancer Center director.

“I am grateful that Jennifer is willing to take on this critical role at this important time in the history of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. The Cancer Center and its research and clinical programs are among the most important components of Vanderbilt. As an institution we are committed to providing the resources necessary to ensure our place among the very top cancer centers in the country.”

In addition to a national search for a new director, the Cancer Center is set to significantly expand its capacity to take care of patients in anticipation of an expected explosion of new demand as the baby boomer generation enters its cancer-prone years.

A member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1994, Pietenpol is a member of the Cancer Center's senior leadership team and has served as its associate director for basic science and translational research programs since 2002. She is a past program leader in Signal Transduction and Cell Proliferation. In addition to serving on the center's executive committee, which provides strategic direction for the center, she has been closely involved in building relationships with key donors and volunteers.

“Jennifer is known and respected by faculty in the basic sciences, translational research and clinical investigation, across the Medical Center, as well as by donors, by the Cancer Center's Board of Overseers and by its External Scientific Advisory Board,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research.

“She brings not only stability and consistency in leadership but also the energy and enthusiasm to guide the Cancer Center through a seamless transition in leadership.”

One of Pietenpol's mentors, Harold Moses, M.D., the Cancer Center's founding director and currently director emeritus, praised VUMC leaders for her selection.

“Jennifer is an exceptional scientist who understands fully what it means to be a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Moses said. “She has played an important role in developing our basic and translational research efforts over the years and is ideally suited to foster the collaboration and collegiality that has always been a hallmark of Vanderbilt and is so critical to our continued success.”

Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, noted the progress that the Cancer Center has continued to make since the last renewal of its NCI designation and its Cancer Center Support Grant with a score in the very best category of “outstanding.”

“The Cancer Center's research funding has grown by 30 percent, even in the face of tight national research budgets,” Gabbe said. “We have seen the award and renewal of key research grants and the recruitment of outstanding faculty. The Cancer Center has in place a first-rate research and clinical team. I want to thank Jennifer for her willingness to accept this challenge and to express my confidence in her ability and that of the Vanderbilt-Ingram team to move the Cancer Center forward.”

Pietenpol said she was honored to be asked to help guide the Cancer Center through a time of change and transition.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a special place, with a team of committed, talented scientists and clinicians who are dedicated to working together to provide the very best care for our patients and to conduct the high-impact cancer research and clinical trials that will make the greatest difference for patients today and tomorrow,” Pietenpol said.

“I am honored to play a role in maintaining our momentum while we assess our programs, think carefully about what we need for the next stage of our development and identify the very best candidate to lead us in the coming years.”

Pietenpol received her doctorate in cell biology from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1990 and subsequently pursued a postdoctoral fellowship in oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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 malfunction of these pathways promotes tumor development. The ultimate goal 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.