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Gruber named director of USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

Gruber delivers a lecture on April 11 at the Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower
Stephen B. Gruber, center, receives congratulations from Keck School of Medicine of USC dean Carmen A. Puliafito, left, and David Ginsburg, James V. Neel Distinguished University Professor of Internal Medicine, Human Genetics and Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School. (Photo/Brian Morri)

Stephen B. Gruber, holder of the H. Leslie Hoffman and Elaine S. Hoffman Chair in Cancer Research, was installed as the fifth director and the first clinician-scientist to lead the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“Great medical institutions require great physician leaders, and USC Norris will be even greater under Steve Gruber,” said Keck School of Medicine of USC dean Carmen A. Puliafito.

Calling the occasion “an extraordinary day,” Gruber said, “the opportunity to lead a comprehensive cancer center is truly something that I treasure.”

He expressed gratitude for the support of the Hoffman Chair, which gives him the freedom to innovate in his own research and to concentrate on nurturing and improving the infrastructure and support for other members of the cancer center.

In his inaugural lecture on April 11 at the Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower, Gruber described how his efforts to diagnose and treat a 67-year-old man with gastrointestinal bleeding following a cardiac catheterization led to important considerations about the role of genomics in cancer research and targeted care.

Discussing “precision cancer care” and the future of genomic oncology, Gruber noted the frequent occurrence of cancer in the family of the 67-year-old patient, despite the fact that the man did not have any of the genetic mutations known at that time to be related to colon cancer.

Sequencing the entire genome of the patient and his son – the first such sequencing at the University of Michigan – revealed eight previously unknown and potentially relevant mutations.

The case also illustrated the importance of a sequencing tumor board that Gruber had set up at the University of Michigan. The board – made up of a health behaviorist, ethicist, psychiatrist, genetic counselor, molecular geneticist, clinical oncologist and pathologist – established a protocol to help determine the clinical relevance of the genomic information and how to share information with patients in a meaningful and responsible way.

Gruber is “a very special guy, and it’s been a privilege to play some role in his career development,” said David Ginsburg, James V. Neel Distinguished University Professor of Internal Medicine, Human Genetics and Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School, who served as keynote guest speaker at the installation.

“What’s happening in genetics is nothing short of astounding,” Ginsburg said. Harnessing the power of modern genetic information to improve diagnosis already has made spectacular progress, he said, but customizing treatments is still in the early stages and will take much more work.

“The future will be different,” he said. “I predict that everyone will get a full genome sequencing at birth. There’s a lot we have to learn, but it’s an incredibly exciting time.”

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