University's Cancer Cluster Hires Celebrated During Event Jan. 6
During President Barack Obama’s State of the Union
address on Jan.12, 2016, the Cancer Moonshot initiative to
accelerate cancer research was brought to light. The
initiative—led by Vice President Joe Biden—aims to
increase therapy options to more patients while also improving the
ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.
However, a similar initiative began at the University of
Cincinnati two years before this announcement, culminating in the
hire of six cancer cluster researchers at the Academic Health
Center who will work together to establish a center focusing on
precision cancer care and prevention.
Four of these hires were celebrated in an event Friday, Jan.
6, where leadership from each of the involved colleges spoke about
the momentum of this initiative moving forward.
These new hires are:
- Nalinikanth Kotagiri, PhD, James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy,
whose research will focus on molecular imaging and cancer
- Karlynn BrintzenhofeSzoc, PhD, College of Allied Health
Sciences, whose research will focus on talking about death and the
- Tom Cunningham, PhD, College of Medicine, Department of Cancer
Biology, whose research will focus on understanding the mechanisms
by which cancer cells acquire and use nutrients to promote their
uncontrollable growth and expansion
- In Kwon Kim, PhD, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of
Chemistry, whose research will focus on PARP inhibitors for cancer
treatment. PARP inhibitors work by blocking the action of poly
(ADP-ribose) polymerase, an enzyme that helps repair DNA.
The hire of two additional members, 1. A senior member who
will serve as the cluster leader and 2. A faculty member within the
College of Nursing, will be confirmed in coming weeks.
Cluster hiring is a way to capture the expertise of
multidisciplinary researchers for a shared focus. Part of the
funds used to create the new positions come from the Office of the
Provost (half of the hire’s 3-year salary), the vice
president for research pays for half of the start-up costs and the
respective college where the hire will hold an appointment pays the
cluster hiring initiative
began with a proposal from former
provost and president, Beverly Davenport, PhD, in 2014,” says
Shuk-mei Ho, PhD, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Professor and Chair of the
Department of Environmental Health at the UC College of Medicine,
Hayden Family Endowed Chair for Cancer Research and director of the
Cincinnati Cancer Consortium. "I was asked by the dean of the
College of Medicine at the time to take on this initiative for the
Academic Health Center, and so, together with my colleagues at the
CCC, I put together a proposal and request for funding titled
‘Precision Medicine in Cancer Care.’”
According to the National Institutes of Health, precision
medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and
prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes,
environment and lifestyle for each person.
"One example is to study what we call the ‘super
responders,’ those people who respond exceptionally well to a
specific therapy, and pinpoint the reasons why they do so well. The
knowledge we gain can allow us to further tailor treatments for
other patients, individually or as a group, for his/her or their
matched treatments/interventions,” she says.
After a competitive proposal and review process, it was
announced that the cancer cluster hiring plan was approved, along
with for the plan for analytics (lead faculty in the Carl H.
Lindner College of Business) and water (lead faculty in the College
of Engineering and Applied Science).
Ho says a cancer cluster hiring committee was formed to
coordinate and assist individual department/college-based search
committees to find complementary talents. All searches adhere to
college/departmental faculty search guidelines and the competitions
"There were representatives from each college—Beverly
Reigle, PhD, from the College of Nursing, Georg Weber, PhD, and
Pankaj Desai, PhD, from the Winkle College of Pharmacy, Gary Dick,
PhD, from the College of Allied Health Sciences, Eddie Merino, PhD,
from the College of Arts and Sciences—and then William Ball,
MD, who was in the Office of Research at that time and then Pat
Limbach, PhD, once Dr. Ball became our new dean,” Ho says.
"At least one committee member was involved in the search process
of each of the hires, along with the hiring committees from each
Ho says there were so many impressive candidates, the colleges
decided to bring some additional faculty members on board, using
funds from their own budgets. Anjanette Wells, PhD (College of
Allied Health Sciences, who will lead research on social barriers
in cancer prevention) and Tim Phoenix, PhD (Winkle College of
Pharmacy, who will focus on tumor formation in pediatric
populations) are not technically cluster hires but will be
conducting research with them. These two were acknowledged on
Friday as well.
"Cancer has become a major focus for the entire
university,” said Ball, senior vice president for health
affairs at the Academic Health Center and Christian R. Holmes
Professor and Dean of the College of Medicine, during the event.
"This is an opportunity to make a tremendous impact. We
couldn’t have done any of this without the support of Beverly
"Now, we have an obligation to ensure that this cluster
Tiina Whalen, EdD, dean of the College of Allied Health
Sciences, says that the idea of a cluster hire is a brilliant way
to harness the potential of many experts in many areas and that the
translational research that will come from this initiative is
exciting and necessary.
Winkle College of Pharmacy Dean Neil MacKinnon, PhD,
"We’re fighting a noble fight that impacts all of
us,” he says. "This is an opportunity for us to break down
barriers and work as one. I’m excited to see what great
things come of this.”
"This is very significant,” adds Ho. "The cluster hiring
initiative serves as a catalyst to draw in a bigger group to focus
on precision medicine. This theme is central to ongoing planning
for an application for a National Cancer Institute Designated
Comprehensive Cancer Center.”