Upstate News

June 30, 2009
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

Top cancer researcher studying new drug treatments named pharmacology chair

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Ziwei Huang, Ph.D., a leading cancer researcher from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the University of California at San Diego, has been named professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology at SUNY Upstate Medical University. In addition, Huang will serve as director of the SUNY Upstate Cancer Research Institute. Huang’s appointment is effective Aug. 17.

In announcing the appointment, Steven Scheinman, M.D., Upstate’s senior vice president and dean of the College of Medicine, said Huang will elevate Upstate’s research stature and help lead faculty in collaborative research efforts. “Dr. Huang brings to Upstate a highly successful research program focused on new drug development and cancer research,” Scheinman said. “His accomplishments have been impressive, and have been characterized by a collaborative style that reaches across departments and boundaries. He is a catalyst who leads scientists in exciting new directions, and stimulates and inspires them to work together.”

Steven Goodman, Ph.D., dean of the College of Graduate Studies and vice president for research, welcomed Huang’s appointment to the faculty. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Ziwei for a number of years,” he said. “The Upstate community will find him to be an outstanding researcher, an entrepreneurial and energetic leader, an outstanding colleague, and a role model for students and faculty alike.”

Since 2004, Huang has been a member of the faculty at the Burnham Institute and its National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. The Burnham Institute ranks number one worldwide for citations per publications for its research in biology and biochemistry.

At the Burnham Institute Huang has built a robust research program that centers on the development of molecular probes that can be transformed into new therapeutic agents for the treatment of cancer. One example is his focus on a family of proteins that are key regulators of apoptosis or programmed cell death, which is implicated in many human diseases including cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Huang’s laboratory has shown that synthetic cell binding peptides can induce destruction of tumor cells and suppress the growth of tumor in mice. In addition, he discovered, using computer-screening techniques, organic compounds that mimic the tumor-killing effect of these binding peptides. Huang is planning further studies to advance these inhibitors to human clinical trials as a new class of anti-cancer drugs.

Huang brings to Upstate more than $2 million in NIH grants. Various members of his research team and at least one additional faculty member are also expected to join Huang in his move to Upstate.

As director of the SUNY Upstate Cancer Research Institute, Huang will promote opportunities for greater collaboration among Upstate faculty doing basic, clinical or translational cancer research. Cancer is a research priority at Upstate as noted by its inclusion in the university’s Research Strategic Plan as one of the four key areas slated for research growth.

“Dr. Huang will work with faculty and department chairs to expand our research profile in cancer by attracting new faculty and grant awards to our campus.” Scheinman said.

Huang earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at San Diego in 1993, working with Dr. Murray Goodman on biologically active peptides. He then began a two-year postdoctoral research stay at the University of California at San Francisco, working with Stanley Prusiner, M.D., winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine, and Fred Cohen, M.D., D. Phil, on the structure of the prion protein and the mechanism of mad cow disease.

Prior to joining the Burnham Institute, Huang served as tenured associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2000-2004) and as assistant professor at the NCI-designated Kimmel Cancer Center of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia (1995-2000).

Huang has lectured worldwide and published more than 100 research articles, reviews, book chapters and conference proceedings. He is editor of the book “Drug Discovery Research: New Frontiers in the Post-Genomic Era (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2007), which highlights research on new drug development, cancer, infectious disease, neurodegenerative disease, and stem cells from leading experts around the world.

Upstate conducts nearly $ 40 million in research annually. Current cancer research addresses the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying abnormal cancer cell growth, the development of experimental cancer therapeutics and the viral oncology and tumor immunuology, which is increasingly seen as a new approach to treating human malignancies. In addition, faculty members in various departments at Upstate conduct major clinical trials of cancer therapies.

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