Skip to Content

Leadership Transitions

Ann Richmond praised for nurturing research education; David Cortez and Debra Friedman named associate directors

September 23, 2020

Ann Richmond, PhD, is stepping down as associate director for Research Education. Photo by Anne Rayner.

As a new decade begins, researchers are passing on the baton to others who will lead some of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s most important initiatives.

After serving 16 years as associate director for Research Education, Ann Richmond, PhD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research, is stepping down from the leadership post.

Richmond, who is internationally known for her research on chemokines and tumor growth, will continue as director of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology and lead her research lab in the Department of Pharmacology as an Ingram Professor. Scott Hiebert, PhD, professor of Biochemistry and Hortense B. Ingram Professor of Cancer Biology, will serve as interim associate director for Research Education.

Richmond was recruited to Vanderbilt in 1989 from Winship Cancer Center at Emory University, where she was director of the Tumor Biology Section. During her time at Vanderbilt, she has served in numerous leadership roles, including director of graduate studies for the Department of Cell Biology and Assistant dean of Biomedical Research. She has brought trainees and scientists together for over 15 years by designing innovative annual Vanderbilt-Ingram retreats and seminar series. Further, her leadership efforts have been critical in the formation and success of the research and educational missions of the Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Tennessee State University U54 Partnership: “Partners in eliminating cancer disparities.”

“Ann Richmond’s accomplishments as a world-renowned cancer investigator and an expert in cancer education and training have been a guiding force in making Vanderbilt-Ingram’s research and career development programs what they are today. She has created, grown and integrated VICC’s cancer education and mentoring activities with Vanderbilt-wide efforts. Ann has nurtured an environment of discovery, learning and collaborative sharing, and I am very grateful for all her leadership contributions,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology, Executive Vice President for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, director of Vanderbilt-Ingram and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development.

Basic Science Research

David Cortez, PhD, has been named associate director for Basic Science Research. Photo by Daniel Dubois.

David Cortez, PhD, has been named associate director for Basic Science Research. Cortez, the Richard Armstrong Professor of Biochemistry, joined Vanderbilt University in 2002. He is an expert in the field of DNA damage response and repair and made seminal discoveries about the mechanisms that maintain genome integrity.

A highly accomplished and creative scientist, he has numerous studies published in Cell, Science, Nature and other high-impact journals, and is a member of the editorial boards for Cell Reports and Molecular and Cellular Biology. His leadership roles include being a co-leader of the Genome Maintenance Research Program since its inception in 2007 at VICC and having served as director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University for eight years.

“David Cortez has a vast knowledge of biochemistry, molecular biology and cancer biology. In addition to his scientific expertise and breadth, he brings tremendous leadership skills and vision that will catalyze fundamental discoveries of the highest value for translation to our patients. He is a leader who mentors early career scientists, prompts colleagues to examine scientific problems from different angles and spurs collaborative endeavors. I’m delighted that he has taken on this new role,” Pietenpol said.

Cortez replaces Hiebert, who has served in the role since 2008. Hiebert is a member of the National Cancer Advisory Board that provides guidance to the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). He will continue in his role as associate director for Shared Resources and continue to focus on the molecular mechanisms of acute leukemia and the action of tumor suppressors in his own research program.

“Scott Hiebert has done an outstanding job for the past 12 years leading Basic Science, mentoring program leaders and playing an integral leadership role in the last three renewals of the Cancer Center Support Grant, which grants NCI designation to Vanderbilt-Ingram,” Pietenpol said. “We are grateful for all his hard work and his continued dedication to the Cancer Center — he inspires all of us.”

Community Science and Health Outcomes

Debra Friedman, MD, MS, has been named associate director of Community Science and Health Outcomes. Photo by Anne Rayner.

Debra Friedman, MD, MS, E. Bronson Ingram Chair of Pediatric Oncology, is expanding her leadership role in improving cancer outcomes both within and beyond the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center catchment area. She has been named associate director of Community Science and Health Outcomes.

Although the title is new for Friedman, the mission is not. She serves as co-leader of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Health Outcomes and Control Research Program and has led regional initiatives and collaborations.

“I am thrilled that Dr. Friedman has accepted this senior leadership role at Vanderbilt-Ingram. She is an established leader in community science initiatives bringing new approaches to improve cancer outcomes and a successful track record in implementing them,” Pietenpol said.

Recently, Friedman answered a call from the NCI to design interventions to address a health disparity for people in rural areas, where the death rate from cancer is higher than in urban areas. Her plan uses telehealth technology, allows community clinicians to consult with the VICC HOPE molecular tumor board and offers rural patients resources for self-care management. Her proposed research received funding for five years.

Friedman co-leads both the Clinical Trials and Population Sciences Research Core for the NCI-funded Meharry-Vanderbilt-Tennessee State University Cancer Partnership and the community engagement research initiatives of the NCI-funded Southern Community Cohort Study.

In the associate director role, she will be responsible for leading, managing and growing community-engaged research focused on cancer health outcomes throughout a large catchment area served by Vanderbilt-Ingram. She will monitor cancer-relevant needs and work toward enhancing the impact of Vanderbilt-Ingram to improve outcomes. She will also work with other NCI-designated cancer centers and with regional partners to address health disparities and to revise state and local policies with the aim of promoting community health. Friedman will continue to serve as director of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology.