Year-End Message from the Director

As 2022 comes to a close and we begin to prepare for the upcoming year, I would like to thank all of you for your commitment and dedication to the UF Health Cancer Center during a year of unprecedented accomplishments.

Jonathan D. Licht, M.D.

In May, we submitted our revised Cancer Center Support Grant application to become designated by the National Cancer Institute. The application was a monumental achievement that brought together faculty, staff and consultants working collaboratively, and it exemplified the Cancer Center’s commitment to teamwork. After months of preparing and practicing, our site visit went forward flawlessly on Oct. 13. Everyone who was involved in the day did an outstanding job, and I am extremely proud of our performance throughout the entire day. In the summary statement issued by the parent committee, eight areas received improved scores, with two components receiving exceptional as part of their rating. I will be sharing more news on the status of our designation in the coming months.

The Cancer Center continues to grow, now boasting over 330 members, including 11 new UF Scripps Biomedical Research members and six external recruits joining the center in 2022. Our multidisciplinary approach to solving the problem of cancer led to several notable research accomplishments this year, including a discovery that could lead to earlier pancreatic cancer treatments, a drug-discovery method led by a UF Scripps researcher that shows promise against aggressive breast cancer, and a new genomics-based score to deliver more personalized and effective chemotherapy treatments for pediatric patients with acute myeloid leukemia. Making use of the Cancer-Center supported GMP facility, Elias Sayour, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues began a first-in-human trial of an mRNA vaccine for glioblastoma, with all of the preclinical work being performed at our center.

As a result of their impressive contributions to herpesvirus-associated cancer research, Rolf Renne, Ph.D., and his collaborators at Tulane successfully renewed their P01 from the NCI. In addition, Janice Krieger, Ph.D., was awarded an MPI U01 from the NCI that focuses on increasing referral of diverse participants to NCI-supported clinical trials via a culturally responsive, multilevel intervention that uses virtual community health educators to reach diverse populations. These are just two examples of the tremendous research projects our members are conducting. In fact, we are ending 2022 with nearly $42 million in peer-reviewed funded research being conducted by our members. The UF Health Cancer Center also held the inaugural Physical Sciences Retreat this summer, which drew a diverse group of more than 50 UF researchers for a day of in-person lectures, collaborations and networking opportunities.

To better meet the needs of our community, the center expanded our outreach efforts this year. We held several well-attended community events to raise awareness of cervical and colorectal cancers, partnered with our county extension colleagues to conduct skin cancer prevention and pesticide education events, and hosted the Power Over Cancer event with the East Gainesville community, among many other ongoing initiatives.

Our education program continues to lead the way with an impressive repertoire of programs to train the next generation of cancer researchers. This summer, the team brought back the Cancer Research Conference for Science Teachers after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, drawing 70 attendees from 29 counties. In January, we will have the chance to learn about our colleagues’ research in person at Research Day 2023, with our keynote speaker being Thomas Gajewski, M.D., Ph.D., a leader in the field of immunotherapy.

In April the center appointed Luisel J. Ricks-Santi, Ph.D., to an important new role as associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion to support a culture of inclusion and diversity. Examples over the past year include the first Cancer Health Disparities Symposium in April, outreach with the Bethune Cookman University in July to stimulate a pipeline for potential trainees, the 2021-2022 pilot postbaccalaureate program for underrepresented students and the Florida-California Health Equity Center (CaRE2) postbaccalaureate program in cooperation with Florida A&M. The CaRE2 Health Equity Center and its many faculty and trainees within the Cancer Center had a large presence at the 2022 15th AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities, and a series of lectures on this topic are planned for the first half of 2023.

On behalf of the leadership team, thank you for your many contributions to the Cancer Center this past year. I hope you and your family enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season, and I am excited to welcome everyone back in 2023. We have much to look forward to!


Jonathan D. Licht, M.D.
University of Florida Health Cancer Center

UF Health Cancer Center faculty and staff after the Site Visit on Oct. 13.