Dr. David Tuveson has been named director of Cold Spring...

Dr. David Tuveson has been named director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's Cancer Center, one of the nation's leading research institutions. He is shown in his Cold Spring Harbor lab on Jan. 13, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Dr. David Tuveson, renowned for his investigations into the causes of pancreatic malignancies, has been named director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Cancer Center, one of the nation’s leading research institutions.

Tuveson succeeds Dr. Bruce Stillman, who has directed the center as well as all facilities on the laboratory’s 120-acre campus. Stillman, a prizewinning researcher who has overseen the cancer center for 25 years, will remain as president and chief executive of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and maintain a research lab that focuses on cancer genomics, officials said Tuesday.

“It’s a great honor to lead Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Cancer Center and take on the challenge of creating better therapies and better diagnostics by leveraging the laboratory’s unique strengths,” said Tuveson, who has made numerous contributions to understanding the basic biology of cancer, especially of the pancreas.

In addition to his role at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, where he is a professor, Tuveson is a clinician who treats pancreatic cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He is also director of research for the Lustgarten Foundation in Bethpage, whose aim is to advance scientific and medical investigations into the disease.

“No one is more deserving of this appointment than Dr. Tuveson, whose research over the past two decades has transformed the pancreatic cancer landscape,” said Kerri Kaplan, the foundation’s president and chief executive.

“His extensive experience as a leader in pancreatic cancer research and his drive and commitment to curing cancer make him uniquely positioned to lead Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Cancer Center,” Kaplan said.

The lab’s cancer center is one of the nation’s 25 that carries the National Cancer Institute’s distinction as an NCI-designated research facility. Scientists at the center focus on basic research — breaking new ground in tumor biology and developing treatments against numerous forms of the disease.

Whole-exome sequencing, a widely used diagnostic tool designed to identify genetic mutations in tumors, was pioneered at the center in 2007. Ibrance, a breakthrough drug for estrogen-positive breast cancer that was federally approved last year, had its origins in a series of fundamental discoveries by the center’s scientists.

Under Stillman’s leadership, the center entered into a landmark affiliation last year with the Northwell Health system. Through the pact, cancer-treatment discoveries at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are expedited to patients in need throughout the Northwell system. Its hospitals treat about 16,000 people annually for cancer, Northwell officials said.

Tuveson assumes directorship of Cold Spring Harbor’s cancer center at a time of enormous scientific innovation that runs across a broad spectrum, ranging from gene-editing technology — particularly CRISPR-Cas9 — to advances that he has driven himself.

CRISPR is the inexpensive but revolutionary gene-editing technique that has allowed scientists unprecedented precision and speed in manipulating “the letters of the DNA code,” the basic chemicals of life itself. Two years ago, scientists in China used the technique to develop twin monkeys in the lab. Investigators at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are using it to unravel long-defiant mysteries involving cancer.

“I’m very hopeful that five years from now, we should see next-generation therapeutic and diagnostic approaches and we will hear more people saying — ‘I used to have cancer,’ ” Tuveson said.

His laboratory has pioneered the use of 3-D organoids, living miniature models of the human pancreas derived from the organ’s stem cells. Stem cells are progenitors — blank slates — capable of being transformed into complex tissues under certain laboratory conditions.

Working in collaboration with Dr. Hans Clevers, director of the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands, Tuveson and his Cold Spring Harbor team reported last year on how organoids can improve pancreatic cancer research.

“We look forward to all of the clinical research that we are sure will come out of the cancer center with Dr. Tuveson at the helm,” Kaplan said.

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