Powerhouse medical oncologist joins UAB as director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center

Michael Birrer, a leading medical oncologist at Harvard University, will take the reins as the new director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, succeeding the retiring Edward Partridge.
Written by: Kendra Carter
Media contact: Bob Shepard, bshep@uab.edu


Michael J. Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., a leading medical oncologist and trailblazer in the early detection and treatment of gynecologic cancers, has been named director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center.

news birrerMichael J. Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., has been named director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. He will start on Aug. 1.Birrer comes to UAB from Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is director of Medical Gynecologic Oncology and director of the Gynecologic Cancer Research Program at the Gillette Cancer Center. He also serves as the leader of the Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center program in gynecologic cancers and is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Birrer will succeed Edward E. Partridge, M.D., the Evalina B. Spencer Chair in Oncology, who is retiring from UAB after a remarkable 48-year career, including 10 years as director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Birrer will join UAB on Aug. 1.

“Mike Birrer is an outstanding physician-scientist who balances a vision of transformation and leadership,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the School of Medicine. “He understands drivers for excellence in clinical care and has a vision for growing precision medicine in cancer care, as well as a well-established commitment to fundamental scientific discovery. His strategy in moving cancer research from bench to bedside and back to the bench is also a fundamental element of our Cancer Center’s mission to provide the highest-quality cancer care while advancing our understanding of cancer and translating that knowledge into better prevention, detection and treatment.”

One of the nation’s leading cancer research and treatment centers, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center located in the five-state area that includes Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and South Carolina.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center offers a full array of treatment options from multidisciplinary clinics filled with specialized experts from across cancer fields to the latest state-of-the-art technology. The Cancer Center treats an estimated 5,000 new patients each year and is home to an outstanding faculty of nearly 250 physicians and researchers, from 30 departments and nine UAB schools, as well as affiliations with Southern Research Institute and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“UAB is a first-rate institution with a Comprehensive Cancer Center that is all around one of the best in the nation, offering tremendous opportunities for growth and service to the cancer patients of Alabama, the United States and abroad,” Birrer said. “It is a great honor for me to lead such a prestigious cancer center.”

“The leader of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the most important roles at UAB because the center touches so many aspects of our institutional mission. Dr. Birrer’s recruitment will ensure that the Cancer Center continues to build on its successes and continues moving forward as a destination for groundbreaking discovery and the highest-quality patient care.”
— Ray L. Watts, M.D., UAB president

“The leader of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the most important roles at UAB because the center touches so many aspects of our institutional mission,” said Ray L. Watts, M.D., UAB president. “Dr. Birrer’s recruitment will ensure that the Cancer Center continues to build on its successes and continues moving forward as a destination for groundbreaking discovery and the highest-quality patient care.”

Birrer’s research interests include the molecular origins of gynecologic cancers, as well as the identification and characterization of aberrations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes in these cancers. His lab has a long history of determining the genomic characteristics of ovarian, cervical and endometrial cancers and using the data to form the basis for early detection assays, prevention strategies and novel therapies.

He began his career in 1988 as an investigator at the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, becoming a senior investigator and chief of the Molecular Mechanisms Section of NCI’s Center for Cancer Research. He became the deputy chief of the Cell and Cancer Biology Branch at the Center for Cancer Research in 2000.

He joined Massachusetts General and has served in his current roles since 2008. Birrer earned his doctoral degree in microbiology and immunology and medical degree at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City before completing an internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and medical oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute. 

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