MD Anderson scientists, clinicians named to elite scientific group

MD Anderson News Release 11/29/2012

Five members of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center faculty have been honored by their peers with election as Fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). “Election as an AAAS Fellow is wonderful recognition of scientific excellence and leadership by the people who know best – colleagues, collaborators and competitors in the field,” said Thomas Buchholz, M.D., interim provost and executive vice president at MD Anderson.

“We’re honored and delighted on behalf of our five new Fellows, the most ever elected from MD Anderson in a single year, who represent the three major areas of research -- basic science, translational and clinical – that lead to better treatment and longer lives for cancer patients,” Buchholz said.

MD Anderson now has 20 AAAS Fellows on its faculty.

Sharon Dent, Ph.D.,
professor and chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis, and  interim vice provost, basic science research. Section of Biological Sciences. “For pioneering advances in understanding how histone-modifying enzymes alter chromatin architecture and providing the first evidence that transcriptional co-repressor complexes function by reorganizing chromatin.”

Elizabeth Grimm, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology and deputy division head for research affairs in the Division of Cancer Medicine. Biological Sciences. “For distinguished contributions advancing the understanding of the innate immune system and the role of cytokines in human cancers, leading to the development of novel treatments.”

Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Leukemia and associate vice president for Global Academic Programs. Section of Medical Science. “For pioneering clinical research that has produced major seminal discoveries in several leukemia categories (chronic myeloid, acute lymphocytic and acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes), thereby saving lives and improving cancer prognosis.”

Bill Plunkett, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics. Biological Sciences. “For significant contributions to basic studies of cancer pathophysiology aimed at identifying chemotherapeutic drugs and translational medicine.”

Anil Sood, M.D., professor in the departments of Gynecological Medical Oncology and Cancer Biology. Section of Pharmaceutical Science. “For paradigm-shifting research regarding neuroendocrine effects on cancer, development of RNAi therapeutics and anti-angiogenesis approaches, for pioneering translation of multiple new drugs from lab to clinic.”

“It’s both a great honor and very humbling to be elected to AAAS,” Sood said.  “I’ve been fortunate to have excellent colleagues and collaborators, at MD Anderson and elsewhere, to conduct the team science necessary to make progress against cancer.”

For Plunkett, MD Anderson has the ideal environment for the work he’s best known for: translating basic research into the clinic, both for solid tumors and blood-based cancers. “My clinical colleagues have supported and enabled my research. I’ve had the opportunity to study so many things here with so many different people, and I continue to be inspired by and interested in the work we do.”  

Dent is a basic scientist who also directs the Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Research Park in Smithville, Texas. "I’m honored by this award,” Dent said. “My success is a direct reflection of the talent and hard work of my research teams over the years.  I share this honor with all of them."

Grimm conducts translational research and leads MD Anderson’s Specialized Program in Research Excellence in Melanoma.  “My laboratory research spans from the basic chemistry of specific molecular modifications in cancer cells to the systems biology interactions in the patient.   I believe that translation of laboratory findings into clinical use is a natural part of “finishing the job.” I’m extremely grateful for the researchers and clinicians who form our collaborative network at MD Anderson” Grimm said.   

Kantarjian is a leukemia researcher. “Election to the AAAS is a great honor as well as a recognition of the success of MD Anderson’s leukemia research” Kantarjian said. “There has been a great deal of progress made in the treatment of leukemia, and MD Anderson has been at the forefront with our ability to develop and offer the most-advanced therapies to our patients.”

Founded in 1874, the AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society. Fellows must be nominated by either the steering groups of the association’s 24 sections, or by any three Fellows who are current AAAS members (so long as two of them are not affiliated with the nominee's institution), or by the AAAS chief executive officer.  Each steering group then reviews the nominations within its respective section and a final list is forwarded to the AAAS Council, which votes on the aggregate list.

This year 702 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Feb. 16 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.

The nonprofit AAAS publishes the journals Science, Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and other efforts.