Scientist Richard D. Wood, Ph.D., Appointed Richard M. Cyert Chair In Molecular Oncology At University Of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
PITTSBURGH, February 16, 2001 — Richard D. Wood, Ph.D. , an internationally renowned scientist whose research focuses on DNA repair, has been appointed the Richard M. Cyert Chair in Molecular Oncology and director of the molecular and cellular oncology program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).
“The University of Pittsburgh is widely known for its rich tradition of medical research and for the caliber of medical researchers who have been and continue to be associated with Pitt -- legendary figures from the past such as Jonas Salk, the developer of the first effective polio vaccine, and current day legends such as Tom Starzl, a true pioneer in the field of organ transplantation. Dr. Wood’s appointment builds on that great tradition and reflects the University’s commitment to basic biomedical research as the key to developing 21st century medicine,” University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said.
“Rick is an extremely gifted investigator who has made seminal contributions to our understanding of how DNA repairs itself and how problems with DNA repair can lead to cancer and other disorders. His arrival will invigorate our University’s research program in molecular oncology and take it to a nationally recognized level,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, health sciences; dean of the University’s School of Medicine; and scientific collaborator with Dr. Wood.
The Cyert chair was established in 1997 and funded by a $1.5 million grant, half from the Vira I. Heinz Endowment and half from the H.J. Heinz Company Foundation. The chair is named after Richard M. Cyert, former president of Carnegie Mellon University, a member of the UPCI Council’s technology transfer committee and a former UPCI patient. Dr. Cyert, who passed away in 1998, was widely recognized for his research in economics and was an economic consultant for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and several European countries.
“Dick Cyert had a remarkable vision for UPCI that stressed the essentiality of basic research for developing new cancer prevention and treatment strategies. Rick Wood’s appointment to this position is fitting given Cyert’s regional legacy in advancing scientific research and recruiting the best and brightest to Pittsburgh,” remarked Ronald B. Herberman, M.D., director of the UPCI and associate vice chancellor for research, health sciences, University of Pittsburgh. “Rick’s arrival will facilitate and provide leadership for many innovative collaborative activities aimed at getting more science-based therapies into the clinic.”
“I look forward to the move to the University of Pittsburgh where I will continue and expand my research on how cells respond to DNA damage. The major new initiative in molecular oncology at UPCI is an exciting opportunity to help build a high-level program in basic research in cancer, concentrating on fundamental DNA transactions,” commented Dr. Wood.
Dr. Wood’s work focuses on how cells repair their DNA – the recipe for life. His work has shown the similarities among and differences between DNA repair systems of vastly diverse organisms, including viruses and human cells. DNA repair allows cells to withstand damage leading to uncontrolled cell growth (cancer) or eventual cell death. DNA repair also enables cells to pass functional copies of genes from generation to generation.
Dr. Wood likens DNA repair to car maintenance. Regular maintenance, such as an oil change, is akin to base excision repair, the everyday, small-scale repair of DNA damaged from by-products generated through the body’s routine metabolic activities. A car hitting a pothole and in need of a major repair such as alignment is like a cell facing nucleotide excision repair (NER), which occurs when an external agent like sunlight or a chemotherapy drug severely injures DNA. Other DNA repair systems operate if mistakes occur as the DNA duplicates and then segregates during cell division. Sometimes if DNA damage is too great, cells are considered irreparably injured like a “totaled” car and triggered to die.
Much of Dr. Wood’s work has focused on xeroderma pigmentosum, a hereditary disorder in which cells cannot repair sunlight-induced DNA damage, leading to the formation of spontaneous skin cancers. By studying this disorder, Dr. Wood and his colleagues elucidated the complex cascade of molecular events needed for human NER. These findings have broad potential for clinical use, according to Dr. Herberman. Identifying individuals with faulty DNA repair genes could allow doctors to more closely manage patient care and detect early cancers or precancerous conditions. Conversely, by understanding how DNA repair works at the molecular level, cancer researchers may be able to develop ways to subvert the ability of some cancer cells to repair DNA damage after exposure to chemotherapeutic agents, thus making a given therapy more likely to kill a cancer completely.
Dr. Wood, who joins the faculty March 8, will also hold appointments as professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s department of pharmacology and in the department of biological sciences. An investigator whose work routinely appears in high-impact scientific journals, Dr. Wood recently published an overview article about DNA repair in a February issue of Science.
“Both Science and Nature devoted entire issues to a milestone in science – the publication of virtually the complete sequence of the human genome,” said Dr. Levine. “These issues also included a small number of landmark articles commenting on, and interpreting, the most important families of human genes. DNA repair genes comprise one of these families.”
Dr. Wood comes to Pittsburgh from the leading cancer research institute in the United Kingdom (U.K.), the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), where he was a principal scientist and an honorary professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at University College in London. Prior to joining the ICRF in 1985, Dr. Wood was a post-doctoral associate at Yale University in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry. He received his doctorate in biophysics from the University of California, Berkeley and his bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is a fellow of the Royal Society, the U.K. equivalent of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. He was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization and was chosen to receive the Meyenburg Award, an annual prize awarded by the German Cancer Research Institute. Dr. Wood has co-organized numerous international scientific meetings on DNA repair.
Western Pennsylvania’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, UPCI serves a population of more than 6 million people and is a leader in translational research, the conversion of laboratory findings into applications of potential clinical importance. Physicians at UPCI use a wide range of modern technologies and facilities to help each patient receive individualized, comprehensive care. Ongoing studies at the institute lay the foundation for future diagnostic methods and treatments that often become employed nationally and internationally.