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For Immediate Release: October 4, 2001
Contact: DMS Communications (603) 650-1492

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Accomplished Cancer Researcher Clinician Joins Dartmouth to Head Cancer Center

Hanover, NH - Internationally distinguished cancer physician and scientist Mark A. Israel, MD, has joined Dartmouth as Director of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Professor at Dartmouth Medical School.

Israel, formerly of the National Cancer Institute and the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), will be a professor of pediatrics and of genetics, pending confirmation by the Dartmouth Trustees at their November meeting.

Trained as a pediatric oncologist, Israel has gained promising knowledge from his laboratory studies on nervous system tumors to benefit children and young adults with cancer. His ground-breaking research on how tumor cells develop has helped pave the way for innovative therapeutic approaches to combat and cure brain tumors and other childhood cancers that once defied treatment.

Israel was the Kathleen M. Plant Distinguished Professor and Director of the Preuss Laboratory of Molecular Neurooncology at UCSF. He succeeds E. Robert Greenberg, MD, Cancer Center Director since 1994, who stepped down to return to his cancer prevention research.

"We are delighted to have recruited a person of Mark Israel's stature to Dartmouth. He is recognized as a leading cancer researcher, an excellent teacher, an outstanding clinician, and an effective administrator, " said John C. Baldwin, MD, Dean of DMS and Vice President for Health Affairs of Dartmouth College.

"As a world-renowned clinical scientist, he epitomizes the three interdependent core missions of our academic medical center: the discovery of knowledge; the promulgation of that knowledge - to the public, to patients and the medical profession; and the delivery of innovative, high-quality clinical care to our patients - our greatest privilege and responsibility."

Israel's own work is an example of research focus brought directly to bear on solving clinical cancer problems. Nervous system cancers are the second most common cancer in children, and the most frequent solid tumor in those under 15, according to the American Cancer Society. They originate from embryonic cells still in development, (most adult tumors arise in mature tissues), and thus they are among the most challenging to treat.

Using these childhood tumors as models, Israel has advanced understanding of the molecular pathways that regulate the finely tuned coordination of cell development, maturation and death. He has identified genetic cues that go awry, causing cells to proliferate wildly to produce a tumor, and his research has helped improve survival for youngsters with aggressive cancers previously considered hopeless.

His discovery in 1985 of links between tumor differentiation agents affecting cellular oncogenes set the stage for successful therapy to treat neuroblastoma that occurs most commonly in infants and in young children. He was the first to show that histologically similar tumors can be genetically distinct, and harnessed these differences to target treatment against certain cancer types. Today, many young adults whose therapies were tailored based on Israel's discoveries are alive and leading productive lives, cured despite having been diagnosed with a highly malignant small round cell tumor.

"It's this type of leadership in clinical innovation that makes Dr. Israel's move here so exciting," said James Varnum, President of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Alliance. "Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) is committed to this kind of research-driven clinical care, so that we provide the best care possible. We also have a children's hospital (CHaD), so Dr. Israel's experience is well suited to DHMC."

Israel's leadership coincides with a major expansion being planned for the Barbara E. Rubin Building, which houses the Cancer Center at DHMC. The project will help sustain the trajectory of growth in research and patient programs that continue to provide cutting edge cancer care for the community and region.

"The addition addresses a critical shortage of space to support faculty, which has stemmed from the success of research programs at the Cancer Center, a particularly compelling factor," Baldwin said. "Dartmouth will remain a major contributor in research, teaching and clinical care in cancer, and the future is very bright."

Israel said he welcomes the opportunity to lead the effort to expand and enrich Dartmouth programs at the forefront of cancer care and investigation. "The Norris Cotton Cancer Center is well poised to provide an outstanding environment in which the recent advances in cancer research can be translated into clinical opportunities and where the amazing flurry of scientific insight that currently envelops us can be exploited as new initiatives for oncology are sought," he said.

"There is growing anticipation that the next decade will yield significant breakthroughs in the prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Meeting this expectation will require the integration of contributions from multiple disciplines, bringing basic scientists and clinicians into close collaboration. I am committed to fostering an integrated approach for improving medical care in which teaching, scientific discovery and clinical care are seamlessly interwoven, and I look forward to nurturing a spectrum of programs to facilitate and enhance cancer research and patient care, " Israel said.

In recent years, Israel has developed unique laboratory models of human brain tumors to test novel therapies and has become a leader in studies of the Id (inhibitor of differentiation) genes that play key roles in abnormal growth and differentiation of human brain tumors. He also uses gene profiling to characterize difficult to distinguish tumors and is extending his discoveries on childhood tumors to common tumors of adults, where he says, "advances in oncology and preventive medicine can have a large community impact."

Author of more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, Israel received the Farber Award in 1998 for outstanding contributions to neurooncology. His record of professional recognition and service is extensive and includes membership in the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the preeminent organization for physician-researchers, and on the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Cancer Institute.

Israel graduated from Hamilton College in 1968 and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1973. Following his training in pediatrics at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston, he was recruited to the National Institutes of Health, where he rose to head the Molecular Biology Section (formerly molecular genetics) in the Pediatric Branch of the National Cancer Institute. In 1990 he joined the faculty of UCSF, serving as the Kathleen M. Plant distinguished professor since 1997.

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