News Release

Leading physician-scientist joins Virginia Tech to spearhead cancer research in Washington, DC

Christopher Hourigan will spearhead innovative cancer strategies at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Cancer Research Center

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Virginia Tech



Christopher Hourigan, a senior investigator and chief of the Laboratory of Myeloid Malignancies at the National Institutes of Health, has joined Virginia Tech as a professor of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and director of the institute’s Cancer Research Center in Washington, D.C. 

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Credit: Clayton Metz/Virginia Tech

A globally recognized physician-scientist who studies and treats blood cancer is joining Virginia Tech to lead cancer research in Washington, D.C., said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

Christopher Hourigan, a senior investigator and chief of the Laboratory of Myeloid Malignancies at the National Institutes of Health, will join Virginia Tech as a professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and director of the institute’s Cancer Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Hourigan exemplifies the prototype of a physician-scientist, integrating insights from his patient interactions directly into his fundamental and translational laboratory research,” Friedlander said. “We are extremely enthusiastic to have him take on this important new leadership role for our growing cancer research programs in Washington, D.C., and to further strengthen our collaborations with Carilion Clinic, Children’s National Hospital, and other health systems and universities.”

The focus of the research effort, known as Fralin Biomedical Research Institute Cancer Research Center – D.C., is to bring basic, translational, clinical, and computational researchers together in the nation’s capital to focus on the shared aim of engineering cancer solutions.

“Convening top talent like Dr. Hourigan and developing deep and diverse partnerships are key to solving our most complex global challenges,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands. “It’s exciting to see our vision for the university advancing across the commonwealth and in the greater Washington, D.C., metro area.”

Friedlander said, “I also anticipate the innovations and insights that will emerge from Dr. Hourigan and the other Virginia Tech scientists in Washington, D.C., collaborating with the institute’s cancer research teams in Roanoke as well as with our computer science and engineering colleagues at Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus in Alexandria.”

Research will involve expert teams and national and international collaborations.

“We have the opportunity to build a new cancer research center from the ground up, focusing on getting talented and highly motivated teams working in innovative new ways to reduce the burden of suffering from cancer in the United States,” Hourigan said. “It's clear we're not doing well enough for people who are dealing with cancer, and this is our chance to come up with new ways to do better.”

The addition of Hourigan will accelerate the university’s initiatives in Washington, D.C. Newly renovated research facilities on the site of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus already house Fralin Biomedical Research Institute cancer research scientists Jia-Ray Yu and Kathleen Mulvaney, along with teams of researchers from the Center for Genetic Medicine Research and Rare Disease Institute of Children’s National Hospital.

Hourigan’s research focuses on a high-risk form of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia, which annually affects about 20,000 Americans. He looks at reasons for why some people survive cancer while others end up dying, even though initially they seem to have had the same response to treatment.

“The person who's newly diagnosed with cancer and has gone through treatment will ask a reasonable question, ‘Well, what about me? I want to know what my actual likelihood of surviving is going to be, and are you sure I don’t need more or different treatment?’” Hourigan said. “As an oncologist, those are often hard questions to answer. You have a lot of empathy with the person in front of you and wish we could give better, more personalized, answers. We're strongly focused on the idea that if we had better diagnostic tools to allow a precision medicine approach, we could give doctors and patients a better understanding of exactly where they are now and what’s the best thing for them to do next.”

In addition to his primary appointment with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Hourigan will be a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

Hourigan received his medical degree and research doctorate from Oxford University and completed residency and oncology fellowship training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he was subsequently a practicing physician on the acute leukemia service and faculty member. He is board certified in hematology and medical oncology.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Hourigan was a tenured senior investigator, co-director of the Myeloid Malignancies Program, and chief of the Laboratory of Myeloid Malignancies at the National Institutes of Health. 

He was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the National Institutes of Health Director’s Challenge Innovation Award, and is a member of medical honor society Alpha Omega Alpha. He is also a fellow of both the American College of Physicians and the Royal College of Physicians.

He looks forward to the task ahead.

“Virginia Tech has some key strategic advantages,” Hourigan said. “It is nationally known for engineering and computational science, which are going to be increasingly important components of cancer research. I think there's also this sense of energy, innovation, engineering, and teams working across disciplines on hard problems here. And cancer is a hard problem.”

Ultimately, he wants to put cancer researchers out of business.

“I don't want there to be a need for cancer research anymore, whether that happens in my lifetime, or the lifetimes of those individuals I train,” Hourigan said. “The ultimate objective is not to have an industry of cancer research. Our focus has to be on the patient and on working hard to come up with real solutions to hard problems. It is only with research that we’ll be able to do better with cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment tomorrow than we currently can today. We need to have a sense of urgency and purpose because people are counting on us to come up with answers.”

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