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West Cancer Center and UTHSC Welcome D. Neil Hayes, MD, MPH, to Lead Cancer Research Initiative


Dr. Hayes to serve as Scientific Director, Medical Oncologist, and Van Vleet Endowed Professor

Dr. Neil Hayes

West Cancer Center and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) in partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are proud to announce the appointment of D. Neil Hayes, MD, MPH, as the scientific director of the UT/West Institute for Cancer Research, and the Van Vleet Endowed Professor in Medical Oncology in the Department of Medicine (Division of Hematology‐Oncology), with secondary appointments in the Department of Genetics, Genomics, and Informatics and the Department of Preventive Medicine in the College of Medicine at UTHSC.

Through these leadership roles and appointments, Dr. Hayes will direct and drive funding to lead scientific initiatives for discovery in translational research for the advancement of novel cancer treatment and therapies.

Dr. Hayes will assume direction of a $25 million fund raised through the combined efforts of West Cancer Center, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. He will utilize this fund to recruit additional scientists to the UT/West Institute for Cancer Research in service of a unique program of precision cancer medicine. West Cancer Center’s ultimate goal is to become an NCI designated cancer center, which is anticipated to take seven to 10 years, with an additional investment of $100 million. “Dr. Hayes will lead the scientific research and discovery portion of this journey, specifically launching a program to recruit scientists focused on genomic research for the development of more personalized cancer care,” replied Lee Schwartzberg, MD, FACP, the executive director of West Cancer Center.

The recruitment of Dr. Hayes was a collaboration of health care leaders within the partnership and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Our goal was to attract Neil because of his strong background in cancer genomics and his goal of moving genomic paradigms to clinical decision making. This molecular focus that involves bringing the result to the patient is the forefront of precision/personalized medicine in cancer and other areas. He will be the focus of this approach on the UTHSC campus and at West Cancer Center,” said David Stern, MD, former UTHSC College of Medicine Executive Dean. UTHSC Chancellor Steve Schwab, MD, concurred. “Dr Hayes is the right doctor at the right time to make a real change in our cancer research programs,” he said.

Dr. Hayes most recently served as co‐leader of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Lineberger Clinical Research Program, professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Cancer Surgery, and director of Clinical Bioinformatics at UNC. During his tenure at UNC Lineberger – a National Cancer Institute Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center – Dr. Hayes successfully garnered more than $40 million in cancer research grants and funding, while simultaneously developing one of the most productive clinical trial programs for head and neck cancer in the nation. More broadly, Dr. Hayes currently is in his 10th year as a leader in efforts surrounding the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), the pivotal genomic sequencing project of the decade. His most notable accomplishments in this area include co‐leading the sequencing of RNA for most of the project, and playing a senior role in more than 20 manuscripts reported in Cell, Nature, and the New England Journal.

Dr. Hayes lists more than  120 peer‐reviewed manuscripts in the last decade in the field of cancer research, and is most proud of his trainee record including more than 30 students and postdoctoral Fellows. While at UNC Lineberger Clinical Research Program, Dr. Hayes began work in molecular profiling in lung and head and neck cancer that shows a wide range of potential clinical utility, including the ability to predict clinical outcomes for which there are currently no existing clinical diagnostic tests

Dr. Hayes will share his expertise with the next generation of cancer providers and scientists at UTHSC, where he will have a primary appointment as a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, and secondary appointments as a professor in the Department of Genetics, Genomics, and Informatics, and the Department of Preventive Medicine. In terms of his collaboration with St. Jude, Dr. Hayes’ experience with gene expression and RNA analysis brings a unique skill set to the classification of tumors of any etiology.

Board certified in medical oncology, hematology and internal medicine, Dr. Hayes earned his medical degree from the top‐rated University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He completed his residency at Boston University School of Medicine and a clinical fellowship at Tufts England Medical Center, continuing his education with a postdoctoral fellowship at the NCI Designated Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Hayes also holds a master’s of public health from Harvard School of Public Health and a master’s of science from Tufts New England School of Medicine.

As he looks forward, however, Dr. Hayes said he hopes to continue his work and pursue further cancer research initiatives at the UT/West Institute of Cancer Research with a hunger for revolutionary discovery. “While I stand proudly behind a record of success in my years at UNC, my enthusiasm for the future dwarfs the accomplishments to date,” he said.