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2015 Outstanding Investigator Award Recipients

First awarded in 2015, NCI’s Outstanding Investigator Award supports accomplished leaders in cancer research, who are providing significant contributions toward understanding cancer and developing applications that may lead to a breakthrough in biomedical, behavioral, or clinical cancer research. Previous recipients are listed below.

2022 | 20212020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

Steven Artandi, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Medicine (Hematology) and of Biochemistry
Institution: Stanford University
Research: Address the target cell populations from which cancers emerge – the cell-of-origin – and determine how these early beginnings are linked to one of the most fundamental properties of cancer cells, the acquisition of immortal proliferative properties.


Laura D. Attardi, Ph.D.
Title: Professor, Departments of Radiation Oncology and Genetics, School of Medicine
Institution: Stanford University
Research: Deconstruct the transcriptional programs through which wild-type p53 suppresses cancer and through which missense mutant p53 exerts GOF effects to promote cancer; and use integrated genetic, genomic, cell biological and biochemical approaches to define the p53 transcriptional programs critical for p53-mediated suppression of pancreatic cancer.


Albert S. Baldwin, Ph.D.
Title: Distinguished Professor of Biology and Associate Director of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Research: To dissect signaling mechanisms whereby IKK and NF-kB (canonical and non- canonical) promote the phenotype of cancer. Additionally, mechanisms whereby IKK, independent of NF-kB, promote the oncogenic phenotype will be addressed.


Darell Bigner, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Director, The Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke
Institution: Duke University
Research: Focus on oncolytic poliovirus, immunotoxin, and checkpoint inhibitor therapy of gliomas. Intended outcome will represent paradigm shifts in glioblastoma multiforme cells (GBM) treatment resulting in significant increases in high quality of life and overall survival.


John C. Byrd, M.D.
Title: Professor of Medicine and D. Warren Brown Chair of Leukemia Research
Institution: Ohio State University
Research: Focus on basic and translational biologic questions to develop novel immunologic and targeted therapies for acute myeloid leukemia and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.


Andrea Califano, Dr.
Title: Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Chemical Systems Biology
Institution: Columbia University Medical Center
Research: Develop a novel methodological framework integrating both experimental and computational approaches to systematically elucidate the mechanisms by which tumor heterogeneity drives tumor progression and emergence of drug resistance.


Navdeep Chandel, Ph.D.
Title: David W. Cugell, MD, Professor of Medicine and Cell Biology
Institution: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research: Explore the mechanisms by which mitochondrial metabolism and reactive oxygen species are required for tumorigenesis and identify mitochondrial and redox enzymes that can be therapeutically targeted.


Robert S. Chapkin, Ph.D.
Title: Distinguished Professor and Deputy Director of the Center for Translational Environmental Health Research
Institution: Texas A & M University
Research: Focus on cancer prevention strategies to delineate the nuclear and plasma membrane targeted mechanisms modulating stem cell responses to exogenous (diet-derived) and endogenous (gut microbial) bioactive agents.


Simon R. Cherry, Ph.D.
Title: Distinguished Professor, Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology
Institution: University of California, Davis
Research: Focus on discovering new opportunities for cancer imaging and cancer therapy based on radiation and photonics science.


Daniel William Cramer, M.D., ScD
Title: Professor, Harvard Medical School
Institution: Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Research: Study novel assays and conduct functional studies to advance understanding of mucin-immune cell interactions in ovarian cancer revealed by observations that mucins, like CA125, bind to leukocyte subsets and affect tumor-immune response and that their expression, as well as occurrence of anti-mucin antibodies, depends on tumor features and their risk factors, including obesity, smoking, and reproductive events.


Craig Crews, Ph.D.
Title: Lewis B. Cullman Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology
Institution: Yale University
Research: Contribute toward developing the new field of `Controlled Proteostasis’and help develop the Proteolysis Targeting Chimerae (PROTACs) technology further to target truly undruggable proteins that are key oncogenic drivers.


Carlo Croce, M.D.
Title: Chair of the Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics
Institution: Ohio State University Medical Center
Research: Focus on the identification of genetic and genomic alterations that cause human cancer in order to develop novel targeted treatments for different human tumors.


Michael Fiore, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, MBA
Title: Professor of Medicine
Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Research: Focus on Electronic Health Records (EHR) and using groundbreaking research methods to re-engineer healthcare delivery systems to efficiently organize and deliver state-of-the-art treatment to smokers visiting primary care settings.


Elsa R. Flores, Ph.D.
Title: Chair and Senior Member, Molecular Oncology; Program Leader, Cancer Biology and Evolution
Institution: Moffitt Cancer Center
Research: Despite long-standing knowledge that the p53 function is frequently altered in cancer, p53 has persisted as an undruggable target because of its function as a transcription factor and because it lacks an enzymatic activity that can be readily inhibited. To identify novel ways of targeting p53 in cancer, understanding the interrelated biological functions of the p53 family is essential. By further evaluating existing mouse models and several novel high throughput modalities, we may better understand the biological functions of non-coding RNA regulated by the p53 family in cancer metastasis and tumor metabolism.


Levi Garraway, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Research: Hypothesis that the spectrum of resistance mechanisms for any given cancer therapeutic modality could coalesce onto a much smaller set of critical downstream effect or “nodes.” Focus on discerning the mechanisms operating within these “points of coalescence” to yield new insights into oncogenic dependencies and illuminate guiding principles for the design of novel therapeutic combinations.


Jean Gautier, Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Genetics and Development
Institution: Columbia University Medical Center
Research: Build a map of protein-protein interactions for repair factors common to multiple repair pathways and identify protein-protein interactions that are specifically enhanced or reduced following treatment. These differentially regulated modules will identify potential vulnerabilities in the DNA repair networks of cancer cells and will open the possibility for precise, targeted therapies.


Amato Giaccia, Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Radiation Oncology
Institution: Stanford University
Research: Explore the molecular mechanisms governing lipid homeostasis in cancer, characterize their contribution to tumorigenesis and identify ways that they can be therapeutically targeted in solid tumors and determine how to best exploit them therapeutically.


Filippo G. Giancotti, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor, Department of Cancer Biology, and Scientific Director, David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers.
Institution: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Research: Deconstruct the signaling pathways and transcriptional programs that mediate metastatic dormancy and reactivation of breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer through genetic screening and analysis in mice; define the metastatic niches and the signals they generate in different tumor types and target organs; identify potential targets for prevention of metastatic reactivation and combination therapy of metastatic disease.


Kun-Liang Guan, Ph.D.
Title: Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pharmacology
Institution: University of California, San Diego
Research: Obtain a comprehensive molecular understanding of the mTORC1 and Hippo pathways under normal physiological conditions and elucidate how dysregulation of these pathways contributes to tumorigenesis.


Peter Howley, M.D.
Title: Shattuck Professor of Pathological Anatomy
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Research: Translate what we know and continue to learn about papillomavirus-host cell interactions to identify therapeutic targets for treating HPV-positive cancers and precancers.


Stephen Hursting, Ph.D., MPH
Title: Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Nutrition Research Institute; Director of the Division of Nutritional Biochemistry; member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Research: Utilize a transdisciplinary approach combining well-characterized preclinical models with expertise in nutrition, metabolism and molecular biology in partnership with strong translational collaborations to identify new biomarkers, develop effective interventions to break obesity-cancer links, and reduce the burden of obesity-associated cancer.


Rakesh K. Jain, Ph.D.
Title: A. W. Cook Professor of Tumor Biology (Radiation Oncology) and Director, Edwin L. Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology
Institution: Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School
Research: Dissect the microenvironment of pediatric brain tumors with the goal of improving existing therapies and developing new ones – using powerful, non-invasive, high-resolution imaging technologies.


Jae U. Jung, Ph.D.
Title: Chair of Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Institution: University of Southern California
Research: Focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms of oncogenesis induced by Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpesvirus, investigating viral gene expression, epigenetic regulation, immune evasion, persistence, pathogenesis, and animal model development.


Thomas Kensler, Ph.D.
Title: Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Research: Focus on chemoprevention, which may offer practical opportunities to reduce risks associated with “unavoidable” or largely intractable exposures, using natural products that target the Nrf2 cytoprotective pathway.


Mary-Claire King, Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Genome Sciences and of Medicine (Medical Genetics)
Institution: University of Washington
Research: Discover new mutational mechanisms and new genes in extended kindreds severely affected by breast or ovarian cancer with normal sequences of all known breast and ovarian cancer genes.


David G. Kirsch M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor, Departments of Radiation Oncology, and Pharmacology and Cancer Biology
Institution: Duke University
Research: Improve the therapeutic ratio of radiation therapy by using next-generation mouse genetics and sophisticated small animal irradiation to dissect mechanisms of tumor response and normal tissue injury from radiotherapy.


Hartmut Land, Ph.D.
Title: Chairman, Department of Biomedical Genetics, Director of Research and Co-Director, Wilmot Cancer Institute
Institution: University of Rochester Medical Center
Research: Explore the hypothesis that `cooperation response genes’ (CRGs) are critical to sustaining core features of a malignant phenotype shared between diverse cancers; use genetically tractable in vivo and in vitro models in combination with genomic RNA expression and bioinformatics analyses to identify key regulatory pathways to identify key regulatory pathways and circuits related to CRG activity that control cancer cell homeostasis.


Caryn Lerman, Ph.D.
Title: Mary W. Calkins Professor of Psychiatry
Deputy Director, Abramson Cancer Center
Institution: University of Pennsylvania
Research: Merge concepts and tools from the fields of cognitive neuroscience and behavioral science to develop and evaluate novel neuroscience-based interventions to promote sustainable behavior change for cancer prevention.


Maciej Lesniak, M.D.
Title: Professor and Chair, Department of Neurological Surgery, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Institution: Northwestern University
Research: Focus on therapeutic targeting of malignant glioma stem cells, guided by the hypothesis that novel non-viral gene therapies can be designed to arrest GSC fate in gliomas by suppressing the master neurodevelopmental transcriptional factors that control GSC phenotypes.


Timothy Ley, M.D.
Title: Lewis T. and Rosalind B. Apple Professor of Oncology in the Department of Medicine
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis
Research: Explore the hypothesis that a complete understanding of the consequences of initiating mutations is required to fully understand acute myeloid leukemia (AML) pathogenesis. Focus on the therapeutic approaches against initiating mutations with the potential of providing long-term benefits for AML patients.


Xihong Lin, Ph.D.
Title: Chair and Henry Pickering Walcott Professor of Biostatistics, and Professor of Statistics
Institution: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Research: Develop and apply statistical and computational methods for analysis of whole genome sequencing association studies, investigation of gene-environment interactions, integrative analysis, risk prediction using genetic, genomic and environmental data, and analysis of large administrative databases, to advance genetic and genomic epidemiology, precision prevention, and precision medicine for cancer.


Ian Macara, Ph.D.
Title: Chair of the Cell & Developmental Biology Department
Institution: Vanderbilt University
Research: Focus on understanding how cell context determines phenotype, and determine the roles of mitotic spindle mis-orientation in cancer initiation, tumor suppression by myoepithelial cells, and the subversion of mechanical tension signaling by breast cancer cells.


Jeanne Mandelblatt, M.D., MPH
Title: Associate Director for Population Sciences at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center
Institution: Georgetown University
Research: Use a bio-behavioral framework to conduct population sciences research at the intersection of cancer and aging. Focus on shifting the paradigms of research and care for the growing older population; determine whether biological age markers can identify survivors at greatest risk for functional declines; inform future intervention trials; and expand the limited number of cancer and aging researchers.


Brendan D. Manning, Ph.D.
Title: Professor Genetics and Complex Diseases
Institution: Harvard School of Public Health
Research: Defining the wiring and functions of the PI3K-mTOR signaling network, with a focus on the critical role of this network in influencing the sensitivity and resistance of tumors to targeted cancer therapies and in tumor metabolism. 


Frank McCormick, Ph.D., FRS, DSc (Hon)
Title: Professor Emeritus, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Research: Analyze how GAPs such as the NF1 protein are regulated and how un-regulated Ras proteins cause oncogenic transformation; use engineered isogenic cells, CRISPR technology and biochemical approaches to address these questions.


Joshua Mendell, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor in the Molecular Biology Department
Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Research: Focus on the analysis of miRNA functions in normal physiology and cancer in vivo, investigation of the regulation of miRNA processing in normal development and tumorigenesis, elucidation of lncRNA functions in normal physiology and cancer and application of CRISPR-based genomic editing to illuminate noncoding RNA functions in cells and animals and to discover and validate novel regulators of malignancy-associated phenotypes.


Matthew Meyerson, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Pathology
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Research: Aim to understand the mechanism of how significant alterations in the DNA of lung cancers, such as loss or gain of chromosomes, genetic mutations, and genomic amplification cause the disease. Insights are aimed at uncovering new therapeutic approaches to combat lung cancer.


Jeffrey Miller, M.D.
Title: Deputy Director, Masonic Cancer Center
Institution: Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota
Research: Develop strategies to enhance the anti-tumor activity of endogenous Natural Killer (NK) cells in patients with solid tumor malignancies; and develop “off the shelf” reagents to activate NK cells, overcome inhibitory receptor signaling, and target them to specific tumor antigens.


Patrick S. Moore, M.D., MPH
Title: Distinguished and American Cancer Society Professor, Director, Cancer Virology Program
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Research: Find new ways to discover human cancer viruses and to eliminate viruses as potential causes for cancers that actually do not have a viral etiology. Investigate two cancer viruses already discovered by our lab (KSHV and MCV) and use them as models to understand fundamental principles in cancer research.


Markus Müschen, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine; Co-Leader, Hematological Malignancies Program UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Institution: University of California San Francisco
Research: Focus on mechanisms of drug-resistance, oncogenic B cell receptor signaling and clonal evolution in B-lymphoid malignancies. To validate B cell-specific vulnerabilities as potential therapeutic targets in B cell-lineage leukemia and lymphoma.


Shuji Ogino, M.D., Ph.D., MS
Title: Professor of Pathology, and Professor in the Department of Epidemiology
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Research: Conduct molecular pathological epidemiology (MPE) research on colorectal cancer omics, intratumor heterogeneity and immunity, to gain insights on roles of environmental, diet, lifestyle and genetic factors; and accelerate transdisciplinary integration to develop new research frameworks, analysis designs and statistical methods; grow the International MPE Meeting Series with a goal of making "the STROBE-MPE guideline;" and build new integrative interdisciplinary models including causal inference-MPE, immuno-MPE, social-MPE, and MPE-health communication research.


Paolo Pier Pandolfi, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute
Institution: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Research: Contribute toward the study of critical cancer genes as paradigms for tumor suppression, through the development of a second generation of models and tools in order to explore how they function in leukemia and other cancers, and, importantly, to develop and test new cancer therapies.


Marcus Peter, Ph.D.
Title: Professor in Medicine-Hematology/Oncology
Institution: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago
Research: Focus on death induced by CD95R/L elimination (DICE) its mechanisms, related mechanisms, and the development of a novel form of cancer therapy that is based on targeting tumor suppressors rather than oncogenes.


Kornelia Polyak, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Medicine, Medical Oncology
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Research: Explore the hypothesis that clonal heterogeneity within tumors drives metastatic progression and therapeutic resistance and that understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying clonal interactions within tumors will improve the clinical management of breast cancer patients; and test these hypotheses using a multidisciplinary approach applied to clinical samples and experimental models.


Holly G. Prigerson, Ph.D.
Title: Irving Sherwood Wright Professor of Medicine
Institution: Weill Cornell Medicine
Research: Translate the foundational observational research findings from her previous research into interventional trials to improve end-of-life cancer care; and develop the necessary research tools and build the capacity to develop psychosocial interventions to improve end-of-life cancer care.


Jeffrey V. Ravetch, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Theresa and Eugene M. Lang Professor
Institution: The Rockefeller University
Research: Study how tumor-specific antibodies elicit immune responses against tumor cells that can lead to long-term protection; clarify the mechanisms of action of agonistic and antagonistic immunomodulatory antibodies that target the immune system to activate immune responses against tumors, and explore how the tumor microenvironment may be manipulated in order to augment these immunotherapeutic strategies.


Tannishtha Reya, Ph.D.
Title: Professor  in the Departments of Pharmacology and Medicine
Institution: University of California, San Diego
Research: Combine strategies for the design of early detection tools with an understanding of cancer progression from benign lesions to a malignant state. The overall goal is to enable development of new therapies that can be delivered early in disease, providing a more balanced and effective approach to cancer control.


Antoni Ribas, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Professor of Medicine, Hematology-Oncology
Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Research: Tumor immunotherapy for melanoma using checkpoint blockade alone or in combination with BRAF inhibitors, and gene engineered adoptive cell transfer therapy.


Jeremy Rich, M.D.
Title: Chairman in the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine
Institution: Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute
Research: Investigate the role of mitochondrial dynamics and metabolic control in the maintenance of brain tumor stem cells, regulation of the epigenetic stem cell state, and as a therapeutic modality; and provide an enhanced model of glioma hierarchy and inform the development of novel clinical trials.


Ze’ev A. Ronai, Ph.D.
Title: Professor, Tumor Initiation and Maintenance Program
Institution: Sanford-Burnham-Perbys Medical Discovery Institute
Research: Focus on rewired signaling to establish new paradigms along the cellular response to the microenvironment. This epigenetic focus is expected to reveal fundamental mechanisms underlying tumor cell plasticity, which underlies metastatic and resistant phenotypes, and may culminate in novel therapeutic modalities.


Said Sebti, Ph.D.
Title: Manual and Adeline Garcia Professor and Chair, Drug Discovery Department; Program Leader, Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine
Institution: Moffitt Cancer Center
Research: Focus on identifying and validating novel targets and therapeutic agents specific for tumors that depend on mutant KRas for malignancy by discovering small molecules that bind mutant KRas lowering its GTP affinity; inhibiting prenylation with dual FT and GGT-1 inhibitors; targeting KRas/Ral/p53 pathway; discovering proteins expressed on the surface of tumor cells harboring mt KRas.


Ali Shilatifard, Ph.D.
Title: Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Institution: Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago
Research: Full molecular and biochemical characterization of the COMPASS family of histone H3K4 methylases in the regulation of gene expression and during development, and determination of how their mutations contribute to the pathogenesis of a large number of human cancers including solid tumors and hematological malignancies.


Paul Sondel, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Reed and Carolee Walker Professor of Pediatrics, Human Oncology and Genetics
Institution: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Research: Develop preclinical and clinical regimens that combine tumor reactive monoclonal antibody based therapeutics and other "off the shelf" agents along with genetic evaluation of innate immune function in order to decrease the morbidity and mortality of cancer worldwide.


Daniel G. Tenen, M.D.
Title: Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Institution: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Research: Focus on exploring novel areas of RNA biology and investigating their role in cancer, as well as potential development of more specific therapeutic modalities, using acute myeloid leukemia as a model disease.


Thea D. Tlsty, Ph.D.
Title: Professor, Department of Pathology, Member, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and Director of the Center for Translational Research in the Molecular Genetics of Cancer
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Research: Develop strategies to control dynamic phenotypic states underlying cellular plasticity/heterogeneity in tissues responding to stress. Use these insights for early detection, disease stratification and novel approaches for prevention and treatment of cancer.


Peter K. Vogt, Ph.D.
Title: Professor
Institution: The Scripps Research Institute
Research: Focus on molecular mechanisms of oncogenesis to create an impact on the translation of basic knowledge into clinical medicine.


Geoffrey Wahl, Ph.D.
Title: Professor
Institution: Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Research: Determine the molecular programs that drive embryonic mammary cells into the stem cell state, and use gene editing technologies to generate a new mouse model that will enable the lab to identify fMaSCs in real time based on the cytokeratins they express.


Loren D. Walensky, M.D., Ph.D.
Title: Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Pediatric Hematology/Oncology
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School
Research: Elucidate the fundamental interaction mechanisms of BCL-2 family apoptotic proteins to advance new therapeutic strategies for reactivating cell death in human cancer: apply multidisciplinary approaches to define the conformational activation and homo-oligomerization mechanism(s) of BAX and BAK, characterize a novel mechanism for BAX and BAK suppression by the BH4 domains of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins, and investigate a new allosteric mechanism that controls the apoptotic functionalities of BCL-2 proteins.


Michael A. White, Ph.D.
Title: Professor in the Department of Cell Biology
Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Research: Focused investigation of conditional vulnerabilities that arise as a consequence of oncogene expression and tumor evolution. A broad-scale functional annotation of the diverse intervention targets present within tumorigenic regulatory systems, collection of features that allow these targets to be identified in patients, and assignment of chemicals that strike these targets will be conducted.


Max S. Wicha, M.D.
Title: Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology
Institution: University of Michigan
Research: Elucidate pathways that regulate breast cancer stem cells (BCSCs) and develop strategies to target these cells; analyze BCSC heterogeneity at single cell resolution, and develop methodologies to isolate and molecularly characterize BCSCs from blood of patients on cancer stem cell targeting clinical trials.


Jin Zhang, Ph.D.
Title: Professor in the Department of Pharmacology
Institution: University of California, San Diego
Research: Develop enabling technologies to probe the active molecules in their native environment and characterize how these active molecules change in cancer, to lead to new ways of studying dysregulated molecular machinery in cancer, thereby better guiding therapeutic interventions that target the dysregulation.


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