Selection of New Cancer Center Director

Published: October 15th, 2009

Category: Memos

David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Health Affairs and President, UF&Shands Health System
Michael Good, M.D. Interim Dean, UF College of Medicine
Timothy Goldfarb CEO, Shands HealthCare

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Paul Okunieff, M.D., as director of the University of Florida Shands Cancer Center and chair of the UF College of Medicine department of radiation oncology, effective Dec. 1.

A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Okunieff is currently the Philip Rubin professor in radiation oncology and chair of the department of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where he leads a successful radiation oncology clinical practice and research program. He also is director of the university’s Robert A. Flavin Radiosurgery Center. Prior to his appointment at Rochester in 1998, Dr. Okunieff served as branch chief of radiation oncology at the National Cancer Institute, overseeing clinical-translational research for the intramural NCI program.

Dr. Okunieff is board-certified in therapeutic radiology and is among the pioneers of in vivo nuclear magnetic resonance imaging of tumors. In addition to his experience in building a large and highly collaborative clinical oncology program, he will bring with him tens of millions of dollars in active federal and other extramural grant funding. Many members of his research team will join him in Gainesville.

Dr. Okunieff succeeds Joseph V. Simone, M.D., an internationally recognized leader in cancer care, research and education who headed the Cancer Center and helped to advance an alliance with UF, Shands HealthCare and the Moffitt Cancer Center that was forged in 2008, and Robert J. Amdur, M.D., a professor and interim chair of the department of radiation oncology since 2006.

His research includes a novel method to measure radiation- induced DNA fragments in the bloodstream to estimate radiation exposure, and the identification of molecules that provide genetically based protection against radiation hazards. In addition, he has planned and active protocols to study the treatment of metastatic cancers with radiosurgery, with plans to establish radiosurgery protocols using proton therapy.

He holds three patents, one for a method of predicting and treating brain tumor spread using MRI and external beam radiation, one for Esculentoside A, an agent that has been studied for its anti-inflammatory effects and one for the use of certain drugs that block interleukin-1 activity in the prevention of and therapy for radiation toxicity of normal tissues.

Dr. Okunieff’s arrival is expected to help build additional opportunities for UF, Shands HealthCare and Moffitt Cancer Center to collaborate across the spectrum of cancer patient care, research and educational activities.

Dr. Okunieff completed a postdoctoral fellowship in medicine at Harvard Medical School, followed by a fellowship in radiation medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. He also holds bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and in biological science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.He was an assistant professor in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School from 1988 to 1993.

Dr. Okunieff has published widely in the literature and is a member of numerous professional societies, including the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. He is radiation oncology chair for the Southwest Oncology Group, one of the largest of the NCI-supported cancer clinical trials cooperative groups in the United States. He also is a diplomate of the National Board of Medical Examiners and serves on several committees that oversee the safety and quality of therapeutic radiation delivery.

In addition, he is a past president of the International Society on Oxygen Transport to Tissue. He also is past a member of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group’s executive committee and a past chair of its translational research program. The organization is a clinical component of the American College of Radiology and an international body of more than 300 academic and community medical facilities engaged in clinical trials and other research in the field. It is funded primarily by the NCI.He is a sought-after speaker in his field and has delivered dozens of lectures nationally and internationally.

Dr. Okunieff will bring tremendous energy aimed at further enhancing our cancer programs here at the University of Florida and the UF&Shands Health System. Please join us in welcoming him.

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