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Pier Paolo Pandolfi MD, PHD, to Head Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Internationally recognized scientist credited with curing acute promyelocytic leukemia

BOSTON – Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, a world-renowned researcher on the genetics and biology of cancer, has been named Director of the Cancer Center and the new Cancer Research Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Pandolfi, the 2011 recipient of one of the world’s most prestigious cancer research awards, is credited with curing acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a once deadly form of leukemia, and is at the center of some of the most promising breakthroughs in the race to prevent, treat and cure cancer.

“Dr. Pandolfi’s entire career has been motivated by a deep caring for the individual with cancer,” said Kevin Tabb, MD, President and CEO of BIDMC.  “He has not only unlocked genetic secrets that led to a cure of APL, but he has also made several important discoveries and developed novel methodologies with hopeful implications for treating other cancers. Dr. Pandolfi is one of the true leaders in the field, and having him head our Cancer Center puts BIDMC in the center of a change in the way clinicians and scientists think about cancer.”

A prolific investigator who has published hundreds of scientific papers and received numerous awards, Pandolfi joined the BIDMC faculty in 2007 from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He currently serves as Chief of BIDMC’s Division of Genetics in the Department of Medicine, Director of Research in the Cancer Center, and director of the cancer genetics program. He is also the George C. Reisman Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

 “My mother and father passed away too young from cancer,” Pandolfi said. “I lost dear friends and colleagues to cancer. Cancer research is for me, in great part, a personal quest. My team shares my feelings and this is why we are so committed and driven to find a cure, and to find it soon.

“While I personally experienced the deep sorrow and the suffering that cancer brings in our lives, in our families, I also know that cancer can be cured. We cured APL, so I know that it can be done. This awareness makes us even more determined. As we better understand the biology and genetics of cancer, and as technical tools improve, the opportunities for improvements in early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer have never been better. Our challenge is to translate these into cancer care in the years to come.”

“We stand at a crossroads of challenge and opportunity in our fight against cancer,” said Jeffrey Flier, MD, Dean of Harvard Medical School.  “We are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Pandolfi in this key leadership role at one of Harvard’s great teaching hospitals, and as an important member of the Harvard-wide cancer research community.”  

In his new role, Pandolfi will work along with the Director of BIDMC’s Leon V. & Marilyn L. Rosenberg Clinical Cancer Center to promote excellence in all aspects of cancer care. At BIDMC, multidisciplinary teams offer 21 specialty patient-care programs, such as those focusing on breast cancer, prostate cancer and biologic therapy.

“I look forward to further strengthening the links between research and clinical care,” said Pandolfi. “Our cancer clinicians here at BIDMC already offer the best in early diagnosis, leading edge treatments and personalized care plans. Patients and families know us for our highly individualized care and cherish the compassion and warmth which characterizes all of Beth Israel Deaconess.”

Pandolfi will also head BIDMC’s newly launched Cancer Research Institute which consolidates and strengthens research efforts within the Cancer Center, capitalizing on the unique expertise and creativity of BIDMC’s cancer investigators. Cancer research represents 35 percent of BIDMC’s research portfolio.

In 2011, Pandolfi was recognized with the Pezcoller Foundation-AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) International Award for Cancer Research. This prestigious honor, established in 1997, recognizes a scientist of international renown who has made a major scientific discovery in either basic or translational cancer research or whose ongoing work holds promise for progress in the field of cancer.

Pandolfi’s 1998 discovery of the genes that cause acute promyelocytic leukemia and subsequent work on mouse models of APL to develop effective combinatorial targeted treatments resulted in a cure for virtually all patients with this aggressive blood cancer.

Using a variety of engineered mouse lines to study the effects and interactions of genes linked to the formation of cancer, Pandolfi and a team of researchers at BIDMC have also developed a unique platform for discovery, the “Mouse Hospital,” where mice are genetically altered to replicate human cancers. This enables BIDMC investigators to conduct human clinical trials in parallel with genetically relevant mouse models to determine the efficacy of new treatments in later-stage cancers. This co-clinical methodology will speed the development and approval of new drugs and provide insights into the pathways by which individual cancers wreak havoc.

Most recently, Pandolfi’s revolutionary work has revealed that non-coding RNAs regulate basic biological processes such as growth and tumorigenesis, thus dispelling long-held beliefs that non-protein coding genes in the human genome were “junk.” This discovery has already sparked the development of new targeted drugs to treat disease in patients.

In 2010, BIDMC’s cancer program was the only one in Massachusetts, and one of only 34 in the country, to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons.

BIDMC is also recognized by US News & World Report as one of the nation's top hospitals in cancer care. As a founding member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, BIDMC patients benefit from access to a broad range of clinical trials. The Cancer Center is a member of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), and an active participant in many of the National Cancer Institute's Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE). It was the first program in Massachusetts to receive the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons.

BIDMC was the first center in New England – and one of only a select number of hospitals in the country – to offer CyberKnife, a dynamic new radiation therapy system that is a noninvasive, radiosurgical alternative to open surgery for cancerous and other tumors. BIDMC's Keith C. Field CyberKnife Center has treated more than 3,000 patients using precise image-guidance and a multi-jointed robotic arm to deliver concentrated beams of radiation from multiple directions.

BIDMC also offers advanced imaging systems – including Boston's first PET/CT scanner – for early cancer detection, less invasive breast imaging, advanced gastrointestinal diagnostic techniques, virtual colonoscopy and more.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and currently ranks third in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide.

BIDMC has a network of community partners that includes Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, Anna Jaques Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Lawrence General Hospital, Signature Health Care, Commonwealth Hematology-Oncology, Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare, Community Care Alliance, and Atrius Health. BIDMC is also clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and Hebrew Senior Life and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.org.