ASU appoints DuBois executive director of Biodesign Institute

 Raymond DuBois, an internationally renowned physician-scientist whose research has advanced the understanding of the molecular basis for the prevention of colon cancer, has been named executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute.

Biodesign Institute

“The Biodesign Institute was established 10 years ago with the intention of it becoming a world-class research enterprise. It has achieved that status,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Now it’s time to put the rocket boosters on and advance to what I call Biodesign 2.0.” Photo by: Tom Story

He also will hold the Dalton Chair in ASU’s School of Health Solutions with joint appointments in chemistry and biochemistry. In addition, he will have a joint appointment with Mayo Clinic, co-leading the cancer prevention program.DuBois, whose position will be effective Dec. 1, 2012, comes to ASU from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he served as provost and executive vice president, and professor of cancer biology and cancer medicine. At MD Anderson he was responsible for developing and overseeing research strategy, faculty, the School of Health Professions, graduate education programs and initiatives, and Global Academic Programs.

ASU’s Biodesign Institute is a unique interdisciplinary research endeavor devoted to bio-inspired innovation – that is, using nature’s building principles as a guideline for addressing a range of problems and challenges in health care, sustainability and security. With 10 research centers in 350,000 square feet of LEED certified laboratories, 700 employees and 208 active research projects, the Biodesign Institute is a nerve center for biomedical, sustainability and national security discovery.

“The Biodesign Institute was established 10 years ago with the intention of it becoming a world-class research enterprise. It has achieved that status,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Now it’s time to put the rocket boosters on and advance to what I call Biodesign 2.0.

“In Ray DuBois we have not only an extraordinary researcher, but also someone gifted in research administration. We are fortunate to have such an accomplished scientist and visionary lead Biodesign into its next phase of development.”

“I have spent my professional career in academic medicine and I am delighted to be given the opportunity to head up Biodesign at ASU and venture into some very exciting areas that are crucial to the future of the planet,” DuBois said. “The institute was founded on a remarkably innovative concept – one that offers flexibility and cross-discipline collaborations that have the potential to positively impact mankind in incalculable ways. I can’t wait to get started. I believe that leading the Biodesign Institute is not only going to be intellectually stimulating and personally rewarding, but also a lot of fun.”

“Dr. Dubois’ broad depth of expertise in cancer prevention and cancer translational research will be a tremendous asset to Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University’s collaborative cancer fighting efforts,” said Wyatt W. Decker, vice president of Mayo Clinic and CEO of Mayo Clinic in Arizona. “We look forward to having Dr. Dubois an integral part of our team as we continue to expand the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center presence in the Southwest.”

“The recruitment of Dr. DuBois to lead the Biodesign Institute is a tremendous positive for ASU,” said Jeffrey M. Trent, TGen’s president and research director. “Further, there is no question in my mind that Ray’s clinical insights, research, demeanor, integrity and focus on academic excellence should help galvanize Arizona’s biomedical community around key questions that can benefit cancer patients. His own research efforts have profoundly impacted the field of cancer prevention, leading to the development of even more effective strategies to both treat and prevent cancer.

“Ray is an internationally recognized physician-scientist, and having had the privilege of interacting with him for more than two decades, I can state with assurance that he will provide exceptional leadership to help position the Biodesign Institute into the future,” Trent said.

DuBois came to MD Anderson from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., where he was director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, the B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Medical Oncology and professor of medicine, cell biology and cancer biology.

The author of more than 135 peer reviewed publications, DuBois began his academic research career in 1991 as an assistant professor at Vanderbilt. He had received a bachelor’s in biochemistry from Texas A&M University (1977), a doctorate in biochemistry from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas (1981) and a medical degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio (1985). From 1985 to 1991, he completed his postgraduate training at the Johns Hopkins Hospital as an intern and resident on the Osler medical service, followed by a fellowship in gastroenterology and postdoctoral research fellowship with Nobel Laureate Daniel Nathans.

After joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, DuBois was promoted to full professor in six years, his research having advanced the understanding of colorectal cancer and having led to the development of promising cancer prevention and treatment strategies.

In the 1990s, DuBois and colleagues reported that colorectal tumors contained high levels of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2). This enzyme is a key step in the production of pro-inflammatory mediators such as prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). The DuBois team was the first to show that colorectal cancers over-expressed COX-2 and their research defined a series of critical molecular pathways involved in COX-2 expression – namely, that blocking or inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme would cause colorectal tumors to shrink. This work led to clinical trials and the treatment of precancerous polyps with Celebrex, an arthritis drug that selectively inhibits COX-2.

DuBois explains, “What’s interesting about my research as it relates to biodesign is that it has been known for centuries that the bark of the willow tree was used to treat pain and inflammation. By the 19th century an extract from willow bark was found to contain an active ingredient, salicylic acid, which was the chemical building block used to make aspirin. Aspirin was the first medicine marketed that inhibited cyclo-oxygenase, laying the groundwork for the discovery of the next generation of inhibitors like Celebrex that are available today for treating symptoms of pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. In other words, using a compound derived from the bark of the willow tree as a starting point, a whole new class of agents has been developed that not only reduces pain, but also inhibits the development of colorectal cancer.”

From 1998 to 2004, DuBois directed Vanderbilt’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. During his tenure, he earned a reputation for outstanding leadership, marked by substantial growth in faculty, and the division’s research funding and clinical revenues more than doubled. He was also awarded such major grants as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Program Project grant for the discovery of novel cancer prevention targets and a National Institutes of Health Digestive Disease Research Center grant, one of only 16 in the country. He currently is the principal investigator on the only prevention program project grant awarded by the NCI in 2012.

Among his many awards and honors are: the Ellen F. Knisely Distinguished Chair in Colon Cancer Research; Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars; Anthony Dipple Carcinogenesis Award from Oxford University Press; Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Gastroenterological Association; Dorothy P. Landon Cancer Research Prize; Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Cancer Research Award; E.V. Newman Research Prize from the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine; Outstanding Investigator Award from the American Federation for Medical Research; and Catedra Gonzalo Rio Arronte Award from Mexico City, Mexico.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research and serves on the executive committee of the Aspen Cancer Conference. In addition, he is a founding scientific advisor for both the National Colon Cancer Research Alliance and Stand Up To Cancer.

Ray’s wife, Lisa A. DuBois, is a distinguished journalist and author. They have two children, a daughter, Shelley, and a son, Ethan.

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