A Harvard Connection
M.D. Anderson's new president brings Stephen Colbert cred: Meet Mendelsohn'srock star successor
Filling the white coat (not to mention the suit coat) of Dr. John Mendelsohn as the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's president loomed as a herculean task for the UT Systems Board of Regents.
So it's fitting that in replacing the stepping-down Mendelsohn, the board turned to a rock star cancer fighter. Dr. Ronald DePinho — the director of Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston and a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School — was named as the sole finalist for the M.D. Anderson presidency by the UT Regents in Austin Wednesday.
The 56-year-old DePinho cannot officially be named M.D. Anderson president until the move is finalized in a Regents meeting at least 21 days after the Wednesday announcement of him as the sole finalist. But that process is a mere following-the-rules formality. State law requires the wait.
"Dr. DePinho is a distinguished scientist and proven administrator capable of leading the nation’s premiere comprehensive cancer center ..." Regents’ chairman Gene Powell said in a press release. “The board is extremely confident he has the ability to advance the institution's mission 'to make cancer history.' "
What Powell didn't mention in his praise is that DePinho is also a personality with an appreciation for a little showmanship and the power of the media. DePinho recently appeared on the Colbert Report — Stephen Colbert's late-night show on Comedy Central — to discuss "the secret of eternal youth," in Colbert's words.
DePinho and his research team at Harvard genetically engineered mice to reverse the aging process, a dramatic finding that brought him all kinds of attention in the medical community. And that Colbert appearance where the host brought out giant foam chromosome stuffed animals, joked about the tips being the most sensitive and referred to DePinho as "a mouse scientist."
The bespectacled, well-dressed DePinho took it all in good humor and delivered his points back with a smile. Even when Colbert joked, "Thanks to your discovery, we could never stop working."
DePinho also found the public eye when his work was spotlighted for several years by the Jimmy V Foundation, the cancer-fighting organization started in honor of former North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, who died of cancer after a very public fight. The "Never Give Up" mantra of Valvano has become a regular staple in the battle against cancer.
DePinho is known for his research into how genes affect cancer. In fact, despite his administrative experience (he founded the Belfer Institute), he is best known as a researcher and has served on a number of public advisory boards, giving him Washington experience.
His wife, Dr. Lynda Chin, will also join the staff of M.D. Anderson. The 74-year-old Mendelsohn — who helped M.D. Anderson become the No. 1-ranked cancer hospital in the United States — plans to stay on staff as the co-director of the center's new Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy.
Watch M.D. Anderson's new president handle Stephen Colbert: