The UF Health Cancer Center’s Mechanisms of Oncogenesis (MOO) research program has seen tremendous growth and notable accomplishments in the last few years while under the leadership of Rolf Renne, Ph.D., and Daohong Zhou, M.D. In the last four years, the program, which now has more than 40 members, has been successful in recruiting more than 14 new members across five UF colleges, 50% of whom are early stage investigators.
“We are particularly proud to have recruited a highly talented and diverse pool of early stage investigators who have successfully launched their research programs,” Dr. Renne stated.
Members have received $8.7 million in direct research funding and research has been routinely published in high-impact journals.
“MOO is very integrated in its different research emphases,” Dr. Renne said. “As a result of this, we have a high number of intra-program grants and publications and interactions with the other research programs.”
Along with highly attended monthly meetings, MOO has three active working groups — the DNA Repair Working Group, the Virology Working Group and the Epigenetics Working Group.
In September 2020, Lizi Wu, Ph.D., took over the role as co-leader of the program, replacing Dr. Renne, who’s graciously served as interim co-leader since the beginning of 2017.
“Dr. Lizi Wu is an excellent and well-established cancer researcher,” Dr. Zhou said. “Her research has been well-funded by numerous NCI and NIDCR grants and the studies by her group have led to several major discoveries in non-small cell lung cancer and salivary gland cancers. She is also an outstanding leader and collaborator. She is a great addition to the leadership of our program, and I am looking forward to working with her to further advance our research program.”
Dr. Wu is currently a professor in the University of Florida College of Medicine’s department of molecular genetics and microbiology. She obtained her Ph.D. from Northeastern University in Boston. She completed her postdoctoral training at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and was subsequently promoted as an instructor at Harvard Medical School. She joined UF as an assistant professor in 2006 and was promoted to a tenured associate professor in 2015 and professor in 2020.
“The reason why Dr. Wu is an outstanding candidate, in addition to all of her other qualifications, is that her research is highly interactive,” Dr. Renne said. “She has published with seven MOO members and has active collaborations going on, so she is an ideal candidate for the future development of the MOO research program.”
The Wu lab investigates the molecular basis of cancer that aims to uncover novel cancer diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Florida Department of Health and private foundations. She is active in teaching and mentoring trainees at all levels and has served on graduate admissions committees. Wu is an ad hoc reviewer for various grant agencies, including the NIH and multiple scientific journals, and an associate editor for the Molecular Therapy journal. She also serves on multiple committees, including the UF College of Medicine’s tenure and promotion committee, medical student interview committee and faculty council.
“It is truly an honor to serve as a co-leader of MOO,” Dr. Wu said. “As a member of MOO from the very beginning, I have witnessed the growth of the program under the outstanding leadership of Drs. Renne and Zhou. My own research has benefited tremendously from the support of MOO. I am very excited about this new role and the opportunity to work with the leaders and everyone in the program. I look forward to meeting with our members and learning more about their research, needs and concerns, and finding out how the program can better support our members’ research efforts and facilitate collaboration.”
Promoting collaborations, supporting research and recruiting the best talents will be important for the continued growth of the program, Dr. Wu said. Building on MOO’s existing strengths and the advances in science and technology, there will be new opportunities for the program to expand and lead new lines of cancer research.
“Under the leadership of Drs. Renne and Zhou, MOO has been making impressive accomplishments in new cancer discoveries, research funding and membership recruitment as well as working toward our cancer center’s pursuit of becoming an NCI-designated cancer center,” Dr. Wu said. “I hope to be able to contribute to the continued growth of our program through working closely with Drs. Renne and Zhou. With our cancer center’s strong commitment, we will work towards promoting intra- and inter-programmatic collaborations, supporting our members with their research needs and grant applications, strengthening our existing research and identifying and developing new research initiatives.”
Although Dr. Renne transferred his leadership to Dr. Wu last month to focus on his role as the Cancer Center’s associate director for basic sciences, he is continuing to help Dr. Wu and Dr. Zhou to build the MOO research program as the UF Health Cancer Center continues to pursue NCI designation in the coming years.
“I greatly appreciate the leadership from Dr. Renne,” Dr. Zhou said. “We will continue pursuing the excellence of cancer research, not only in the areas where we have significant strengths as described above but also in areas to better address the needs of cancer patients in our catchment areas, such as aging and cancer.”
The research priorities of the Cancer Center cut across and align with three research programs: Mechanisms of Oncogenesis, Cancer Therapeutics & Host Response and Cancer Population Sciences.