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News from Around the Cancer Center

December 18, 2014

T.J. Martell Foundation lauds Hiebert’s research

Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., associate director of Basic Research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, was celebrated for his contributions to cancer research during the 6th Annual Nashville Honors Gala benefiting the T.J. Martell Foundation.

This year’s event at Nashville’s Omni Hotel honored five Nashville community leaders who work diligently to make a difference in the community, including Hiebert and Vanderbilt-Ingram Board of Overseers member Beth Dortch Franklin.

Franklin was recognized for her work to enhance awareness and support for cancer research and her efforts as an advocate for the educational and outreach needs of cancer patients and families.

“It was a wonderful event and such an incredible honor to be recognized for my research career, and I am convinced that the advances currently underway in cancer research will lead to potential cures for some forms of cancer in the next 10 years,” said Hiebert, who is the Hortense B. Ingram Professor of Cancer Research.

Hiebert is an internationally recognized leader in research on the mechanistic basis of acute leukemia. He and his Vanderbilt-Ingram colleagues are working to uncover the molecular basis for leukemia development while testing potential new therapies for leukemia and other blood-related cancers.

As associate director for Basic Research, he helps to oversee the program which includes more than 100 faculty members and more than $50 million in research funding from public and private sources. He also oversees the Cancer Center’s Shared Resources, which provide advanced technologies to members.

The T.J. Martell Foundation was created in 1975 by Tony Martell in honor of his young son T.J., who was a leukemia patient. The foundation, with strong ties to the music and entertainment industries, helps raise funds in support of lifesaving research and outreach efforts for patients with leukemia, cancer and AIDS. Vanderbilt is a longstanding recipient of support from the foundation, which provides funding for cancer research at the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories at Vanderbilt-Ingram.

– by Dagny Stuart



Abramson lands breast cancer clinical research award

Vandana Abramson, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine and a breast cancer specialist at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, has received the Advanced Clinical Research Award in Breast Cancer from the Conquer Cancer Foundation (CCF).

Abramson’s Advanced Clinical Research Award (ACRA) in Breast Cancer was announced during the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), held in May in Chicago. Only one ACRA grant is awarded each year.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive this important grant award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology,” said Abramson. “This crucial funding will help support my research to improve therapies for breast cancer patients.”

Abramson will receive the ACRA in Breast Cancer grant totaling $450,000 over three years for research that includes two complementary clinical trials that use recent advances in the molecular understanding of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).

The trials highlight novel, molecularly targeted treatments for recently defined subtypes of TNBC, which is one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

This year’s ACRA award is also supported by funding from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

The CCF was created by cancer physicians to seek dramatic advances in the prevention, treatment and cure for all types of cancer.

– by Dagny Stuart



Penson to chair NIH health services research study section

David Penson, M.D., MPH, director of the Center for Surgical Quality and Outcomes Research, has been named to serve as chair of the Health Services Organization and Delivery Study Section in the Center for Scientific Review (CSR) of the National Institutes of Health. He will serve a two-year term.

Penson, the Paul V. Hamilton, M.D. and Virginia E. Howd Professor of Urologic Oncology and professor of Urologic Surgery, will lead a 22-member panel in reviewing health services research.

This research covers topics including the delivery and outcomes of health services, the access and quality of care, costs and cost-effectiveness and the financing of health care.

Penson was chosen based on his “demonstrated competence and achievement” in the field of urology, as evidenced by the “quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements and honors,” according to Richard Nakamura, Ph.D., director of the CSR.

At Vanderbilt, Penson’s research focuses on health outcomes and policy in the field of urologic surgery. He is currently serving as the principal investigator for a $3.3 million, five-year, institutional K12 training grant awarded to Vanderbilt by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality focusing on patient-centered outcomes research.

– by Paula Jones



Arteaga assumes presidency of AACR

Carlos L. Arteaga, M.D., professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology and Donna S. Hall Professor of Breast Cancer at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, assumed the presidency of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for 2014-2015 during the group’s annual meeting in April in San Diego.

The AACR, founded in 1907, is the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and the prevention and cure of cancer. AACR membership includes more than 34,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers, along with population scientists, other health care professionals and cancer advocates in 97 countries.

Arteaga, who joined the Vanderbilt University faculty in 1989, is director of the Center for Cancer Targeted Therapies (CCTT), the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Research Network and the Breast Cancer Program, and serves as associate director for clinical research at Vanderbilt-Ingram.

Since 2001, he has been the leader of the Vanderbilt Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in breast cancer, which recently received a third round of funding from the National Cancer Institute.

“I am extremely honored to be able to serve as president of the AACR,” said Arteaga. “This is a time when the pace of discovery and progress in cancer research has never been better. Thus, I commit to work tirelessly with the AACR so the organization continues to be a main force and custodian of progress and discovery for the benefit of many patients afflicted with cancer.”

Arteaga is internationally recognized for his cancer research, including oncogene signaling and molecular therapeutics in breast cancer with an emphasis on targeted therapies, mechanisms of drug resistance and investigator-initiated clinical trials. Early in his career, he was the first to identify the roles of IGF-I receptors and TGF beta in breast cancer progression and their use as therapeutic targets.

More recently, Arteaga and his team have focused on presurgical and neoadjuvant therapies to discover molecular biomarkers that are useful for patient selection in clinical trials.

– by Dagny Stuart



Marnett named to lead VUMC Research

Lawrence J. “Larry” Marnett, Ph.D., Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research and University Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, has been named Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences.

Marnett succeeds Susan Wente, Ph.D., who held the position for the past five years, and is now provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs for Vanderbilt University.

Marnett, who is also director of the A.B. Hancock Jr. Memorial Laboratory for Cancer Research, director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, and professor of Pharmacology, has been a member of Vanderbilt’s faculty since 1989.

In his new role Marnett will support the operations and strategic development of basic sciences throughout the Medical Center, including its many programs in basic sciences education. And in coordination with the Provost’s office, Marnett will also support cross-institutional collaboration for shared institutes and centers.

As associate vice chancellor for Research, Marnett will be broadly responsible for promoting research discoveries, providing the infrastructure necessary to advance the research enterprise and strategic planning for the Medical Center and joint University basic science research and educational programs.

Responsibilities associated with his role as senior associate dean of Biomedical Sciences include leading basic science education and post-doctorate training for more than 600 graduate students, more than 500 post-doctoral fellows and shared oversight for several trans-institutional graduate programs.

– by John Howser



Pietenpol named to IOM Cancer Policy Forum

Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Benjamin F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, has been named an at-large member of the National Cancer Policy Forum, an advisory group of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies.

The IOM established the forum to serve as a trusted venue for national leaders from multiple sectors to work cooperatively to address high-priority policy issues in the nation’s effort to combat cancer. Pietenpol is serving a three-year term.

“It is a wonderful privilege and honor to be invited to participate as a member of this forum,” said Pietenpol, who also heads a Vanderbilt-Ingram research laboratory focusing on the molecular underpinnings of cancer. “We are at a crucial juncture in cancer research as we elucidate genetic changes that contribute to cancer, and we will need a focused and coordinated effort to use this information for the development of improved prevention strategies and therapies for patients worldwide.”

Members of the National Cancer Policy Forum work together to identify emerging high-priority policy issues in science, clinical medicine and public health relevant to the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Pietenpol has served as associate editor or on the editorial board for numerous biomedical research journals. She has authored or co-authored more than 110 articles published in peer-reviewed scientific publications and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

– by Dagny Stuart



My Cancer Genome launches new mobile app

My Cancer Genome, an online precision cancer medicine tool developed by researchers at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, has unveiled an updated free mobile app that provides even more information about genetic alterations in various types of cancer and the therapies available to treat those alterations.

The new MCG mobile app is searchable and features regularly updated information from the My Cancer Genome website (, an international resource for genetically informed cancer medicine.

“We know that cancer is not a single homogenous disease and individual patients may have specific gene mutations or alterations that are best treated with therapies targeted to those alterations,” said Mia Levy, M.D., Ph.D., Ingram Assistant Professor of Cancer Research. “We launched this new app to provide the latest information about targeted therapies to physicians, patients, researchers and caregivers.”

The app expands the information about anticancer agents and targeted therapies available in the MCG Drug List app that was released in June 2013. The content includes information about various forms of cancer, cancer-related genes, and specific alterations, including gene mutations and fusions. Content on the My Cancer Genome website and mobile application is provided and updated by physicians and physician-scientists from 22 institutions in 10 countries and already covers hundreds of mutations in 19 cancer types.

Users can search by cancer type, gene alteration or drug name (both commercial and experimental), and they can find clinical trials available for patients with those gene alterations. Users can also save favorite searches and pages of interest to stay informed when the pages are updated.

The new MCG app has been redesigned to accommodate an iPad tablet layout and is available for iPhone and iPad at no cost in the iTunes online store.

– by Dagny Stuart