Stillman steps down as CSHL Cancer Center chief

Directed by: Innovative researcher David Tuveson is taking the reins of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center.

After a quarter-century of heralded stewardship, Bruce Stillman is stepping away from his role as head of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center.

Stillman was appointed Cancer Center director in 1992, succeeded CSHL icon James Watson as laboratory director in 1994 and was appointed president in 2003. He’ll still call the shots as CSHL’s president and CEO and will also continue his personal research into DNA replication and genome inheritance.

But his run as director of the Cancer Center is over, CSHL announced this week, with Stillman succeeded by David Tuveson, a CSHL researcher advancing steadily toward a pancreatic cancer cure.

Bruce Stillman: Still the man.

Bruce Stillman: Still the man.

Stillman served as Cancer Center director for 25 years, building a legacy of physical and clinical expansion that includes five consecutive National Cancer Institute designations. Among other growth-minded developments on his watch, he oversaw a strategic affiliation with the Northwell Health system – then the North Shore-LIJ Health System – to accelerate Cancer Center research to clinical settings. This year, the partner institutions launched a Cancer Clinical Research Center to assess new patient therapies and cutting-edge treatments.

Inheriting that legacy is Tuveson, CSHL’s Roy J. Zuckerberg Professor of Cancer Research and research director for the Bethpage-based Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. Tuveson, who runs Lustgarten’s CSHL-based Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory, has spent years focused on early detection and novel treatments, based in part on pancreatic organoid technology – a field in which he’s a widely regarded pioneer.

Thanks to the use of organoids – three-dimensional cell cultures, grown in vitro, that can accurately depict micro-anatomies – and cutting-edge gene-editing tools like CRISPR (for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”), CSHL cancer researchers are primed to “accelerate the drug-discovery and development process,” according to Tuveson.

“It’s a great honor to lead CSHL’s Cancer Center and take on the challenge of creating better therapies and better diagnostics by leveraging the laboratory’s unique strengths, which include expertise in developing new methods and technologies,” he said Tuesday.

Tuveson earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at MIT and medical and doctoral degrees at Johns Hopkins University. Highlights from his distinguished medical career include work alongside renowned oncologist George Demetri of the Boston-based Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the creation of new preclinical and clinical pancreatic cancer strategies at the University of Cambridge.

He’s also credited with generating the first-ever mouse models of ductal pancreatic cancer at the University of Pennsylvania – a major step toward proving that organoids rapidly generated from tumors and biopsies can be used to determine specific disease characteristics.

Tuveson, who returned to the States in 2012 to run the CSHL Cancer Center’s Cancer Therapeutics Initiative, serves as a scientific advisor to Stand Up to Cancer and Georg Speyer Haus, a German cancer-research foundation. He still practices medical oncology through an adjunct appointment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a clinical affiliation with Northwell Health.

The CSHL Cancer Center, one of 25 national NCI-designated cancer centers, is long recognized as a leader in cracking the complexities of cancer’s molecular and cellular nuances. In 2007, the innovate center introduced whole-exome sequencing, a DNA-sequencing technique in wide clinical use today; the breakthrough breast cancer drug palbociclib (stage name: IBRANCE), which earned FDA approval last year, is based on CSHL research dating back over 20 years.

Taking that weighty mantle – and overseeing CSHL research focused on breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, prostate cancer, melanoma and a dozen other cancer types – is a great opportunity to carry on the innovations that have marked both the Cancer Center and Tuveson’s personal career, according to the new director.

“I’m very hopeful that five years from now, we should see next-generation therapeutic and diagnostic approaches,” Tuveson said. “And we will hear more people saying, ‘I used to have cancer.’”

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