Physician-scientist Ethan Dmitrovsky named provost and executive vice president

Lung cancer expert who connects lab and clinic will lead research and academic programs

MD Anderson News Release 04/11/13

Scientist and oncologist Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., who excels at bringing preclinical research results from the lab to the clinic and in leading others to improve cancer care through translational research, will be the next provost and executive vice president at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Dmitrovsky, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, will become leader of MD Anderson’s research and educational programs on July 15.  He also will be responsible for the execution of the Moon Shots Program, an unprecedented effort to accelerate the pace of converting scientific discoveries into clinical advances to reduce cancer deaths.

“Ethan Dmitrovsky is an outstanding leader as well as a highly accomplished scientist and  lung cancer clinician who knows what it takes to successfully connect those two roles as a physician-scientist to improve our understanding and treatment of cancer,” MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., said in announcing the appointment Thursday.

“We looked at many excellent candidates in our search for the best person for MD Anderson; I’m confident that Ethan Dmitrovsky is that person,” DePinho said.

‘I will give my all to serve the MD Anderson community’

“It’s a privilege for me to join this remarkable institution,” Dmitrovsky said. “I thank President DePinho and the search committee for this opportunity. I will give my all to serve the MD Anderson community.”

Dmitrovsky is senior advisor for science and technology to the president of Dartmouth, holds an American Cancer Society clinical research professorship, and chairs the National Cancer Institute’s Board of Scientific Counselors -- Clinical Sciences and Epidemiology and  the NCI’s PREVENT Cancer Drug Development Program external steering panel

"This is a wonderful and well-earned opportunity for Ethan, who has made a tremendous impact on Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine during his 15 years here.   As Chair of the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, Ethan has built a respected and successful program that has contributed much to our world’s understanding of cancer and how we can lessen the burden of this disease,” said Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine Dean Wiley "Chip" Souba, M.D., and Sc.D.

“Ethan is a quiet, extremely effective leader who has held true to his core values centered around collegiality, community, and public service.   We’ve seen this in his leadership as chair and as interim medical school dean at Geisel, and in his work as an American Cancer Society Clinical Research Professor,” Souba said.

Dmitrovsky will remain active in the clinic, seeing some patients at MD Anderson. “He will be an excellent partner for Executive Vice President and Physician-in-Chief Tom Burke and the clinical faculty and for our vice provosts and the research faculty,” DePinho said.

Key research in treatment of promyelocytic leukemia

His bench science research focuses on the mechanisms behind the tumor-suppressing effects of natural and synthetic derivatives of vitamin A, known as retinoids. His lab uses cellular, molecular genetic and pharmacological approaches to identify and understand molecular pathways activated or suppressed by retinoids and how they might be used to treat or prevent cancer. Three grants from the National Cancer Institute support his research.

Dmitrovsky’s team helped establish use of all trans retinoic acid (ATRA) for promyelocytic leukemia, the vital component in combination treatment that leads to complete remission and five-year survival of over 90 percent of patients for a disease that was once uniformly lethal.

In this form of leukemia, white blood cell precursors called promyelocytes fail to develop fully and crowd out mature blood cells due to a genetic translocation that produces the fusion protein PML-RARalpha, which disables the retinoid acid receptor.  ATRA spurs promyelocytes to differentiate fully into blood cells.

Dmitrovsky and colleagues also developed and patented a genetic test that is often used to diagnose promyelocytic leukemia and monitor treatment.

Lung cancer research from lab to clinical trials

Lung cancer is Dmitrovsky’s main research focus. It will kill an estimated 159,000 Americans in 2013, more deaths than the next four common cancers combined. His team has:

  • Discovered a protein-destroying pathway responsible for retinoids’ effects on cancer because it degrades the abnormal PML-RARalpha fusion protein.
  • Developed a mouse model that closely reflects human lung cancer development and targets proteins that prevent destruction of PML-RARalpha.
  • Added additional mouse models to study lung cancer biology and potential treatment.
  • Conducted clinical trials that confirmed the same pathways identified in the lab are involved in human lung cancer.

Dmitrovsky is a graduate of Harvard College and Cornell University Medical College.  He completed his residency in internal medicine at New York Hospital-Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and an oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute.

He joined the faculty at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1987 and moved to Dartmouth in 1998 as Andrew G. Wallace Professor of Pharmacology and of Medicine and department chair.