February 22, 2002

Pietenpol to direct basic science at Cancer Center

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Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., and Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., talk with Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research, at a reception Tuesday honoring Larry Marnett, Ph.D., for his contributions as associate director for basic science programs since the establishment of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. (photo by Anne Rayner Pollo)

Pietenpol to direct basic science at Cancer Center

Dr. Harold Moses presents Larry Marnett with a caricature of Marnett, his sports car, the new Preston Building, a “super aspirin” and Mrs. A.B. Hancock Jr., who funds the lab Marnett directs. (photo by Anne Rayner Pollo)

Dr. Harold Moses presents Larry Marnett with a caricature of Marnett, his sports car, the new Preston Building, a “super aspirin” and Mrs. A.B. Hancock Jr., who funds the lab Marnett directs. (photo by Anne Rayner Pollo)

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., has been named to senior leadership of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center as associate director for basic science programs.

Associate professor of Biochemistry, Pietenpol has been a member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1994. Her research has focused on the workings of the tumor suppressor p53 and the role of cell cycle checkpoint pathways in the development, and potential treatment, of cancer.

In a related development, Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry, has been appointed to succeed Pietenpol as leader of Vanderbilt-Ingram’s Research Program in Signal Transduction and Cell Proliferation, which Pietenpol has led for the past two years.

Pientenpol succeeds Lawrence J. Marnett, Ph.D., who has served as associate director for basic science programs since the Vanderbilt Cancer Center was established in 1993. Marnett remains as Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research and director of the A.B. Hancock Jr. Research Center. However, he has resigned the administrative post to focus more attention on his first love—research in the field of chemical biology and particularly the development of aspirin-like compounds that may be helpful in a number of diseases including cancer.

“For a young cancer center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has accomplished a great deal,” said Dr. Harold L. Moses, Benjamin F. Byrd Professor of Oncology and director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

“Much of the credit for our success lies with Larry Marnett,” Moses said. “He has been an integral part of this Cancer Center since before there was a formal Cancer Center. His contributions are greatly appreciated, including superb training of a wonderfully qualified successor to lead our basic research programs. We also anticipate continued important contributions to the Cancer Center and the worldwide fight against cancer to grow out of Larry’s ongoing research into the causes of cancer and ways to prevent it.”

In her new role, Pietenpol will oversee a cancer research program that has grown under Marnett’s leadership in both scope and stature. The Cancer Center includes 250 faculty members and receives more than $75 million in support from public and private sources each year. Last year, it became one of only 41 Comprehensive Cancer Centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in the country and the only one in Tennessee. It has developed a strong partnership with Meharry Medical College that is considered a model for other comprehensive cancer centers and historically black medical schools to follow.

“I’m very excited that Jennifer has accepted the associate directorship for basic science programs,” Marnett said. “She’s a terrific scientist and a very energetic person who has the ability to catalyze the further growth of Vanderbilt-Ingram.

“Jennifer understands the importance of conducting first-rate discovery research in the context of cancer. This makes her an ideal person to bridge the laboratory and the clinic. I’m especially proud that she was one of the first scientists we recruited when we started the Cancer Center and now she has assumed a major leadership role. It illustrates how important it is to recruit the very best people and to provide them with a rich environment in which they can grow.”

Pietenpol completed her doctoral degree in Cell Biology at Vanderbilt School of Medicine in 1990, at which time she joined the laboratory of Dr. Bert Vogelstein at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center as a research fellow and research assistant professor.

She returned to Vanderbilt in 1994 as assistant professor of Biochemistry and was named associate professor in 1999.

“I gave this a lot of thought before accepting because I don’t want anything to interfere with my research,” said Pietenpol. “I decided that it was an important opportunity for me professionally. In addition, I’m excited to be able to play a more active role in the continued growth and development of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.”

The Signal Transduction and Cell Proliferation Research Program is one of seven research programs in the Cancer Center that brings investigators together and fosters collaborations in some of the most promising areas of cancer research. Heibert will oversee a coordinated program, including 37 scientists, investigating the workings of numerous signaling pathways that are involved in one of the key characteristics of cancer, out-of-control growth and spread of cells.

Prior to joining Vanderbilt’s faculty in 1997, Hiebert was a member of the Department of Tumor Cell Biology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Northwestern University, followed by post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Joseph Nevins at Duke University.

Hiebert is well-known for his research into the genetic factors underlying the development and progression of leukemia.

“It’s an exciting time to become more involved in this program,” Hiebert said. “The recent development of a drug that disrupts the signaling pathways that tell cells to grow in chronic myeloid leukemia indicates that this approach can have a great impact on cancer treatment. It appears that we are on the brink of a revolution of new cancer therapies and the outstanding group of scientists in this program will make a major contribution to this goal.”