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New NCI Director Pushes for 'Integrative Cancer Biology'

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At press time, John Niederhuber was a hop, skip, and strictly-a-formality away from his official appointment as the 13th director of the National Cancer Institute, where he was named acting director in June.

He continues his own lab work through the Laboratory of Tumor and Stem Cell Biology, which falls under NCI’s Center for Cancer Research. His lab members aim to identify, characterize, and isolate tissue stem cells to better understand their role in cancer’s origin and to discover whether they might act as therapeutic targets.

Niederhuber previously served as the chief operating officer and deputy director for translational and clinical sciences at NCI. Before that, the MD was professor of surgery and oncology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and director of that school’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. Niederhuber has also worked at Stanford, where he chaired the surgery department; Johns Hopkins, where he was a professor of oncology, surgery, and molecular biology and genetics; and the University of Michigan, where Niederhuber’s dual appointment in surgery and basic science gave him the ability to “witness how the lab and the bedside were — and are — entwined,” he said in an address to the AACR earlier this year.

In that talk, Niederhuber also addressed what many scientists see as the major challenge confronting NIH agencies today: a shrinking budget. “We must simply become leaner and better at what we do,” he said. “While we might argue that we could use more — and certainly we could — $4.8 billion is a considerable amount of money, by any measure.” He added that pursuing innovative partnerships with the private sector and venture-based or philanthropic organizations would be key in continuing to tackle critical paths in cancer research.

Niederhuber also pointed to the growing importance of team science in the attack on cancer in his AACR talk. “We must find a place for large-scale integrative cancer biology,” he said. “We must continue to be the leader, getting scientists from fields like informatics, physics, electrical engineering, and optics to apply their knowledge to cancer problems in a team setting.”