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August 23, 2010

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Bhalla, Anant take leadership posts at KU Cancer Center, help advance quest for NCI designation

Two top researchers have joined the KU Cancer Center, filling key leadership positions and moving the cancer center closer to its goal of attaining National Cancer Institute designation.

“NCI designation will open new opportunities for research and patient care in the region,” said Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the KU Medical Center. “This announcement shows we are making significant progress toward that goal with these two critical recruitments."

Kapil Bhalla, an internationally recognized leader and physician-scientist in drug development, joined the KU Cancer Center as deputy director Aug. 1. He will also serve as chief of the Personalized Cancer Initiative in the KU Cancer Center, as a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and as the Tyler Endowed Professor.

Bhalla is the founding director of the Medical College of Georgia Cancer Center, Georgia Research Alliance Cecil F. Whitaker Eminent Scholar in Cancer and professor in the Department of Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. His research interests are novel targeted therapeutics of breast cancer, lymphoma and leukemia; identification and validation of novel therapeutic targets; investigating anti-cancer activity of pipeline therapeutics; genomics/epigenomics and chaperone biology.

“The fact that Dr. Bhalla is coming on board in the capacity of deputy director demonstrates that the KU Cancer Center has the resources to recruit high-end physician scientists,” said Roy A. Jensen, director of the cancer center. “We are very excited about his ability to come in and leverage his drug development expertise, his outstanding clinical programs and his special relationship with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help advance new drug discovery initiatives. He will be an outstanding addition to the cancer center.”

"Dr. Bhalla not only strengthens the research program Dr. Jensen is taking to the NCI, he adds depth and breadth to our clinical cancer program,” said Bob Page, president and chief executive officer of KU Hospital.

“I wanted a place where I could come and make a difference,” Bhalla said, adding that he was impressed by “the trajectory of growth” at the KU Cancer Center. “I am very impressed with the leadership and vision, the focus on creating programs that are going to change cancer care.”

Bhalla’s appointment follows that of Shrikant Anant, a pioneering biologist who joined the KU Cancer Center as the associate director of cancer prevention and control July 6. He will also serve as associate dean for research at the KU Medical Center and as Kansas Mason Professor of Cancer Research in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, with a secondary appointment to the Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Gastroenterology.

Before coming to the KU Cancer Center, Anant led the gastrointestinal cancers program at the University of Oklahoma Cancer Institute. A professor of cell biology, medicine/gastroenterology and nutrition, he was also director of gastroenterology research at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Anant led a team of researchers who discovered a new gene, RBM3, which can cause normal cells to turn into cancer cells; also, stopping its expression in cancer cells causes the cancer cells to die. Earlier, while on the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis, he discovered the first tumor-suppressing RNA-binding protein.

“Dr. Anant comes to us with an outstanding national reputation in gastrointestinal cancer research, particularly as it relates to cancer prevention,” Jensen said. “His research spans a wide range of activities – from understanding molecular biology questions to determining the mechanisms of action for certain natural products and their role in cancer prevention.”

“There’s a lot of excitement here,” Anant said of the KU Cancer Center. “The university is putting in the resources to develop high-powered teams of researchers to identify methods to stop cancer development and treat cancers. They are also interested in preventing cancers. My task is partly to lead a team of scientists in this effort.”


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