Three MD Anderson researchers elected AAAS Fellows

Honor recognizes lifetime achievement in cancer research and advancement of science

Three researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for their notable contributions to the field of cancer research. This distinction is one of the highest honors in the scientific research community. 

Stephen Lai, M.D., Ph.D., Cullen Taniguchi, M.D, Ph.D., and Apostolia Tsimberidou, M.D., Ph.D., now join this distinguished group of scientists, engineers and inventors. In a tradition that began in 1874, each AAAS Fellow is elected by their peers to recognize invaluable contributions to science and technology. MD Anderson has had a total of 61 faculty elected to this prestigious group.

“We are proud to have Drs. Lai, Taniguchi and Tsimberidou as part of our MD Anderson community, and we congratulate them on this remarkable honor,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “These stellar researchers embody the MD Anderson spirit of collaborative research to advance meaningful discoveries that continue to improve the lives of our patients.”

MD Anderson provides a unique opportunity for scientists and physicians to collaborate seamlessly and share insights in an ongoing cycle of innovation. Discoveries from the lab can be translated rapidly into new therapies and advanced into the clinic, while data from the clinic can inform studies at the bench in real time. This is a hallmark of MD Anderson’s research community, making it an ideal environment to achieve progress at an unmatched pace. 

Lai, professor of Head and Neck Surgery, was selected for developing novel therapies and imaging technologies from bench to bedside that have improved treatments for solid tumors. His seminal contributions have particularly impacted the treatment of patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, the sixth most common cancer globally. Lai pioneered the use of multiparametric magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to predict treatment effects in order to maximize anti-tumor activity and minimize treatment side effects, including first-in-human hyperpolarized MRI studies for head and neck cancer patients.

Taniguchi, associate professor of Radiation Oncology, was selected for impactful research that revealed the role of HIF2 in hypoxia-mediated cellular communication within tumors and normal tissues, leading to translational breakthroughs in regenerative medicine and cancer biology. His findings on hypoxia signaling helped build an independent radiation biology and cancer laboratory at MD Anderson, which has earned a number of prestigious grants. Work from his laboratory soon will be brought to clinical trials at MD Anderson to improve outcomes in cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.

Tsimberidou, professor of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics, was elected for her seminal contributions to instantiating and implementing precision oncology, through innovative therapeutic approaches, patient care and education aimed at improving clinical outcomes across tumor types. Her pioneering work on the Initiative for Molecular Profiling and Advanced Cancer Therapy (IMPACT) personalized medicine program at MD Anderson helped demonstrate the importance of personalized medicine and use of targeted therapy against tumor alterations for patients with solid tumors.

“AAAS Fellows are recognized as the top researchers in their fields, and election signifies tremendous respect from the scientific community. Drs. Lai, Taniguchi and Tsimberidou are entirely deserving of this honor, and we applaud their contributions to cancer care and research,” said Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., chief scientific officer. “To have 61 MD Anderson faculty elected to this group over our history is a testament to our culture of innovation and breakthroughs driving our mission to end cancer.” 

The 2022 class of AAAS Fellows will be featured in an upcoming issue of Science.