News Release

Dartmouth Cancer Center leader Yolanda Sanchez, PhD, named to head UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

Business Announcement

University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center

Dartmouth scientist and leader Yolanda Sanchez, PhD, a pioneer in cancer research, has been named Director and CEO of The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Sanchez, a professor of Molecular and Systems Biology and associate director of Basic Sciences at Dartmouth Cancer Center, will start in her new role on Feb. 6, 2023. She was born in El Paso, but grew up in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and will become the first Hispanic woman to lead a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.

“As a Mexican-American scientist, faculty member and leader, Dr. Sanchez brings a unique perspective to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at academic institutions,” said Douglas Ziedonis, MD, MPH, executive vice president for UNM Health Sciences and CEO of the UNM Health System.

“I was very impressed throughout the selection process with her motivation to be at UNM in this role, including her desire to return to this part of the country and make a difference in enhancing the health of all New Mexicans.”

“I am so pleased that Dr. Sanchez will be joining our academic medical enterprise to lead the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center,” said UNM President Garnett S. Stokes. “She is a proven leader and collaborator, and I feel confident she will draw upon and find inspiration in the many talents and experiences of our UNM Health community to develop and drive strategy for the future success of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.”

Sanchez said she is looking forward to returning to the Southwest.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “I’m looking forward to partnering with community stakeholders – including the American Indian pueblos and nations and Black and Hispanic communities – to fuel transdisciplinary research and develop innovative methods to translate UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center discoveries to reduce the cancer burden and overcome health disparities in New Mexico.”

Sanchez has led in enhancing community partnerships and engagement and been an advocate for innovative approaches to enhance excellence in diversity, equity and inclusion in academic and health institutions for faculty, staff and students. The mission for her work on the scientific advisory board of the Cancer Center’s Community Outreach and Engagement was to help rural and underserved communities.

Her research leadership roles have included integrating initiatives across basic science, population science and clinical research to ensure high-quality collaborative activities across research programs. Her work on the Early Phase Trials Program steering committee was critical in ensuring that opportunities for clinical and translational research are explored and supported by pilot funding, and that clinical collaborations for translational research are nurtured effectively.

“Dr. Sanchez demonstrated throughout our selection process an excellent understanding of cancer center clinical services matters,” Ziedonis said. “Our UNM clinical leaders, in the Cancer Center and across our Health System, were very impressed with her openness for collaboration and understanding of clinical and prevention matters.”

Sanchez completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the University of Texas system and completed her PhD research at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. She joined the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine faculty in 1998 and was granted tenure in 2004. She was recruited to Dartmouth Medical School (now known as the Geisel School of Medicine) in 2006.

Sanchez has worked extensively with leaders of clinical oncology groups in the Dartmouth Cancer Center, an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, and Dartmouth Health System to understand their concerns and clinical care passions and found ways to increase research and mentoring in those settings.

As a co-investigator of Dartmouth’s Program for Oncology Workforce Education and Research Experience, she helped develop innovative training and recruitment platforms to help women and under-represented minorities pursue careers in oncology.

In addition to her research leadership, Sanchez is an accomplished independent research investigator. Her laboratory studies the mechanisms that maintain genomic integrity and the role of genomic instability in embryonic and cancer development, in particular the interplay between oncogenes and checkpoint pathways in the early stages of cancer development.

Sanchez’s pioneering research helped identify the CHK1 enzyme as a potential oncology target for cancer treatment, which has led to current Phase 1, Phase 2 and other clinical trials for certain tumor types, including those that have mutations in the BRCA 1-2 pathway.

She has translated her research findings in genomic integrity and cancer drug discovery into numerous patents for economic development, as well as to further the field, develop research teams and mentor trainees and junior faculty to develop their own successful research careers.

Sanchez’ husband, Craig Tomlinson, PhD, who currently directs the Dartmouth Genomic Shared Resources and serves as associate director of the Shared Resources at Dartmouth Cancer Center, will join UNM Health Sciences and provide leadership in enhancing research shared services. 

Ziedonis thanked Alan Tomkinson, PhD, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, who has served as the UNM Cancer Center’s interim CEO and Director since Dr. Cheryl Willman’s transition to the Mayo Clinic in 2021. In addition, thanks to Drs. Zoneddy Dayao and Carolyn Muller, for providing additional critical leadership for the Cancer Center during the transition.

He also thanked the search committee led by Mark Unruh, MD, chair of the UNM Department of Internal Medicine, as well as those who provided input in the search process.

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