Public Release: 

Matrisian named Vanderbilt's first chair of cancer biology

Vanderbilt University Medical Center

The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has created a new Department of Cancer Biology, its first new basic science department since the establishment of Microbiology and Immunology 45 years ago.

Lynn M. Matrisian, Ph.D., associate director for education in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and internationally recognized researcher in the role of proteolytic enzymes in cancer, has been named as the department's first chair.

The new department, expected to grow over time to about 20 faculty, will begin with a core group of about six faculty from the current department of Cell Biology.

The overarching theme to the research conducted in the Cancer Biology Department will be the communication pathways between cells and their environment, Matrisian said. "The cues that cells take from the environment are often disrupted in cancer, so it provides an excellent place to target therapy and prevention strategies," Matrisian said. "The goal is to re-establish the normal environment -- one way to think of it is to make the cells behave properly through peer pressure from their surroundings."

Dr. Harold Moses, Benjamin F. Byrd Professor of Oncology and director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, said establishment of the new department will help the center capitalize on the opportunity to recruit new scientists presented by the ongoing "Imagine A World Without Cancer Campaign." The $100 million fund-raising campaign was launched last year with a gift from the Ingram Charitable Fund. It is designed to support Vanderbilt-Ingram's focus on some of the most promising areas of cancer research.

Many of these new recruits -- though certainly not all -- will be researchers in the area of cell biology/cancer biology, said Moses, who served as chair of Cell Biology from 1985-98. However, as departments grow in size, the ability of chairs to lead and mentor faculty can be seriously diminished, he said. A new department will allow growth in the cancer biology arena, without jeopardizing the existing strengths of the Cell Biology Department.

Matrisian has served as interim chair of Cell Biology since Moses left the position to devote his full time and attention to directing the Cancer Center and conducting his own research. Coincidentally, Moses recruited Matrisian to the department in 1986 and has, in turn, become her first recruit to the Cancer Biology faculty.

The new department will have office and laboratory space in the Frances Williams Preston Building, which is undergoing an expansion to provide new space and a more clearly identifiable focal point for Vanderbilt-Ingram activities. The location of Cancer Biology faculty near other cancer researchers as well as near physicians in the clinic is designed to foster collaboration, Moses said.

Matrisian received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1982. Before joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1986, she carried out postdoctoral studies in the Laboratory of Genetics and Molecular Biology in Strasbourg, France.

She is well known for her work on the role of proteolytic enzymes in cancer and particularly cancer metastasis, and she has more than 120 scientific publications to her credit. Her research has earned the financial support of the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Army Breast Cancer Research Program and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Matrisian plays an active role in the American Association for Cancer Research, including serving a four-year elected term on the AACR Board of Directors. She has served on the Pathology B Study Section of the National Institutes of Health and as a member of the parent committee that reviews NCI-designated cancer centers. She also serves an associate editor for Molecular Carcinogenesis and Cancer Research. At Vanderbilt, her previous administrative service has included vice-chair of Cell Biology, program leader for Vanderbilt-Ingram's Host-Tumor Interaction Program and its Breast Cancer Program.

As one of a select group of National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a recognized leader in cancer research, treatment and prevention. Vanderbilt-Ingram is one of only a few NCI-designated centers in the southeast and the only one in Tennessee dedicated to providing the most promising therapies and advancing research in all types of cancer in adults and children. For more information, visit www.vanderbiltingram.org.

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