Woman Leading the Way
Dr. Helen Piwnica-Worms, Gerty T. Cori Professor, Department head of Cell Biology and Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine and Co-Director of the Bright Institute, assumed the position of Vice Provost of Science and Professor of Cancer Biology at MD Anderson on June 1.
Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D., assumed the position of Vice Provost of Science and Professor of Cancer Biology at MD Anderson on June 1. Dr. Piwnica-Worms' unwavering dedication to discovery research, teaching, and concentration on translating basic research into improved patient care contributes to her being regarded as a motivated, ambitious, and respected pioneer in her field.
Dr. Piwnica-Worms received her B.A. degree from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. degree in microbiology and immunology from Duke University Medical School. Dr. Piwnica-Worms first discovered her love of science in graduate school where she became hooked to the endorphin rush she encountered after conducting her first experiment, igniting her desire to pursue discovery research and teaching. Dr. Piwnica-Worms completed her postdoctoral training at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and then joined the faculty of Tufts University Medical School, followed by that of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Hospital, Boston. Most recently she has served as Co-Director of the Bright Institute and Department head of Cell Biology and Physiology at Washington University School of Medicine where she was named Gerty T. Cori Professor.
Dr. Piwnica-Worm's research focuses on how the cell cycle is regulated, how checkpoints interface with the cell cycle machinery to instigate cell cycle delays, and how cancer cells derail these regulatory pathways. These delays provide cells with important opportunities to inspect their DNA for damage. If damage is detected, cells can attempt repairs or self-destruct to prevent that damage from leading to cancer.
Dr. Piwnica-Worms has been awarded national and international recognition for her scientific contributions. She was a Damon Runyon Fellow, a Pew scholar in the biomedical sciences, investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an established investigator of the American Heart Association. In addition, she was a recipient of the Spirit of Health Award for Cancer Research from the American Cancer Society, fellow of the Academy of Science-St. Louis, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Piwnica-Worms was also named an American Cancer Society Research Professor.
Dr. Piwnica-Worms' passions include her family, mentoring, discovery (basic) research and translating research to positively impact human health. She values discovery research because its findings comprise the base of the pyramid upon which medical advances and breakthroughs are made. At the base of the pyramid lies an understanding of how normal cells regulate their growth and division and how cancer cells derail these regulatory pathways (discover research). At the top of the pyramid are clinical trials targeting the features that distinguish cancer cells from normal cells (translational research). Bridging the top and bottom of the pyramid are the preclinical studies that credential the basic science discoveries for future testing in patients. "It has been exciting to be able to take my basic science discoveries from the laboratory into clinical trials. This is what makes me want to get up and come to work every day." I am looking forward to working with colleagues at MD Anderson to continue bench-to-bedside activities. Helen is also passionate about training the next generation of cancer researchers. "It is very rewarding to work with trainees and to see them develop into rigorous scientists ready to launch out on their own."
Dr. Piwnica-Worms will be joined by her husband Dave, with whom she collaborates. He is coming to MD Anderson to lead the Department of Cancer System Imaging and as deputy division head, research, in the Division of Diagnostic Imaging. Helen (Piwnica) and Dave (Worms) hyphenated their names when they were married. Piwinca (pronounced: Pwin-a-ka) means basement or cellar in Polish and Worms is German. The couple has two children. Katie, a graduate of Washington University, is currently a third-year medical student at Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia. William, a graduate of Duke University, is currently playing minor league baseball with the Washington Nationals.
Dr. Piwnica-Worms' hobbies include family, family, family, socializing with friends and traveling.