UTHSC’s Hayes Honored for Contributions to Groundbreaking Cancer Genomic Research

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Dr. Neil Hayes

Neil Hayes, MD, MS, MPH, division chief of Hematology and Oncology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, is among recipients of the 2020 Team Science Awards from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for his contributions to developing The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a groundbreaking multisite project to understand cancer at its molecular level through genome sequencing and extensive data analysis.

The prestigious awards recognizing the founding leadership team of the TCGA, as well as current members, both including Dr. Hayes, were presented June 24 during the 2020 AACR Virtual Annual Meeting II.

The Cancer Genome Atlas, a flagship team science effort of the National Institutes of Health and the National Human Genome Research Institute, began more than a decade ago and has published findings identifying genomic changes or mutations in cells of 33 types of cancer.

Dr. Hayes, also the Van Vleet Endowed Professor in Medical Oncology at UTHSC, was a leader of a site at the University of North Carolina that conducted all the sequencing of RNA, which controls abnormal genetic expressions in cancer cells. He was recruited to UTHSC in 2017.

The association bestowed two awards to the TCGA project. Dr. Hayes was among the recipients of both. One award recognized leadership of The TCGA Pilot Project Network that began the work as early as 2006. The second award honored the members of the current TCGA team.

“The TCGA has emerged as a landmark scientific program which has revolutionized the fundamental understanding of cancer and served as an example for other diseases,” Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR, wrote in announcing the award. “Stemming from its creation, the TCGA is now heralded for contributing to the molecular characterization of over 20,000 biospecimens spanning 33 tumor types, including 10 rare cancers. The project has uniquely convened researchers from all scientific areas and from numerous institutions across the United States and Canada and continues to effectively serve as the premier model of team science initiatives.”

The TCGA has impacted every area of cancer research “and increased our ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer,” she said.

“As a physician scientist, much of my work involves building bridges between basic research and the treatment of patients in the clinic,” Dr. Hayes said. “It is a true team effort to move the field of cancer research forward in this setting. Receiving the Team Science Awards from AACR for TCGA is recognition of the groundbreaking nature of the project and the partnerships it took to make it successful.”

The American Association for Cancer Research is the largest cancer research organization focusing on scientific investigation, education, communication, collaboration, funding, and advocacy in cancer research.