Bjornsti Joins UAB Cancer Fight


March 2, 2009

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Mary-Ann Bjornsti, Ph.D., of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is the new chair of the UAB Department of Pharmacology. She also will serve as the Program Leader in Cancer Cell Biology for UAB's Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Robert R. Rich, senior vice president of health and dean of the School of Medicine, announced that the internationally renowned researcher will be joining the university in early 2009.

"Dr. Bjornsti epitomizes the concept of bench-to-bedside. Her basic science work examining how to disrupt the replication process of cancer cells can have a direct impact on how we treat some cancer patients," Rich said. "She has a wealth of knowledge related to the needs of NIH Comprehensive Cancer Centers and the interdisciplinary approach necessary for them to be successful. She is a tremendous addition to our faculty.

"Dr. David Sweatt, chairman of neurobiology and the search committee, and all the members of the search committee did an extraordinary job bringing highly qualified and sought-after candidates for consideration."

Bjornsti has been at St. Jude's since 1999, where she is a Full Member. She also serves as associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences with the University of Tennessee, Memphis. Prior to moving to Memphis, Bjornsti spent 10 years on the faculty at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Bjornsti earned her bachelor of science degree in biology from New York State University College at Cortland. She earned her doctorate in genetics from the University of Minnesota. She completed a Fogarty Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, at the University of Basel in Switzerland before completing a postdoctoral research fellowship in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Harvard University.

Invited internationally to discuss her research, Bjornsti focuses on how to disrupt the function of the enzyme DNA topoisomerase I using the anti-tumor agent camptothecin. The enzyme allows a tumor cell to unfold its DNA so that it can replicate. Bjornsti investigates how camptothecin can prevent this unfolding.

Bjornsti chairs one of the National Cancer Institute's initial review group subcommittees. She has served as a member for the editorial board for The Journal of Biological Chemistry and is a board member of the Cancer Molecular Therapeutics Research Association.