UTHSC Cancer Researcher Tigyi Named Van Vleet Chair

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Gabor J. Tigyi, MD, PhD, professor of physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been named the Harriet S. Van Vleet Professor in Oncology Research.

Gabor J. Tigyi, MD, PhD, professor of physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been named the Harriet S. Van Vleet Professor in Oncology Research.

Michael R. Caudle, MD, interim executive dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine noted that, “Dr. Tigyi’s groundbreaking research in lipid mediators has
established the UT Health Science Center as a global leader in this field.
His continuing work has changed and broadened our ways of thinking about
cell growth regulation and has profound implications for the future
direction of cancer research. Furthermore, Dr.Tigyi has been a primary leader
in launching UT’s state-wide cancer institute initiative. This chair
acknowledges Dr. Tigyi’s academic success. He has clearly earned this
great honor.”

Hershel P. Wall, MD, interim dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine, Memphis, commented that, “Dr. Tigyi, an extraordinarily valued member of our UT College of Medicine family, certainly meets the criteria for this Distinguished Professorship. Recognized as an ’eminent scientist’ and ‘translational’ researcher, he was recently selected to the prestigious Hungarian Academy of Science in his native Hungary. I am personally pleased that he has been recognized additionally by selection for this chair.”

Dr. Tigyi’s 1986 discovery of lipid molecules that regulate cell growth launched an entirely new field of research that today is populated by fellow investigators around the world. As Dr. Tigyi explained, “I built my career on something unexpected. I was going down one path which proved to be wrong and quite by chance discovered a new type of lipid mediators in the process.” Dr. Tigyi’s initial work was in isolating growth regulatory lipids and identifying their structure.

As history and science have since proven, growth regulatory lipid mediators are important to a whole host of biological responses, including cell survival, degenerative diseases, cancer invasion and metastasis. They also play a major role in organ transplant rejection and are critical to the development of gyri (folds in the brain). Major pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis and Merck have succeeded in producing mimics of these lipid mediators that treat multiple sclerosis and regulate immunity, which leads to organ rejection.

Dr. Tigyi is currently working on three National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants to explore different applications of lipids to cancer research. Collaborators on his various projects include Abby Parrill, PhD, professor of chemistry at the University of Memphis, Duane Miller, PhD, professor, UTHSC College of Pharmacy, and Leonard Johnson, PhD, professor of physiology, UTHSC College of Medicine. “By using computer models to create atomic resolution maps, we will be able to design cancer therapy drug candidates that very few pharmaceutical companies are currently able to do,” noted Dr. Tigyi.

In his role as associate director for basic sciences at the UT Cancer Institute (UTCI), Dr. Tigyi is currently part of a task force that is drafting an entirely new model for cancer care for the state of Tennessee. He commented that, “Nationally, nothing like our model exists. We are working closely with federal and state legislatures to develop a comprehensive and unique program for Tennessee. UTCI is undergoing a transformation from a university, Memphis-based initiative to a statewide system that will offer cancer education, prevention and treatment through multiple centers, hospitals, and practice groups.”

Recognized internationally and widely published, Dr. Tigyi enjoys an ongoing Visiting Professorship at Hokkaido University, Japan. He received his medical degree from the University Medical School of Pecs, Hungary, and holds a PhD in cellular and molecular biology. His extensive post graduate work was conducted in biochemistry at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Gottingen, Germany, and the University of California, Irvine, in molecular biology.