May 16, 2023

Varambally named 2023 Dean’s Excellence Award Winner in Research

Written by
Antony Veena

Sooryanarayana Varambally, Ph.D. MBA, professor in the Department of Pathology’s Division of Molecular and Cellular Pathology, has been awarded the senior faculty 2023 Dean’s Excellence Award in Research.

Varambally earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, before completing a research fellowship in immunology at Hospital Broussias in Paris, France, and a second research fellowship in cancer biology at the University of Michigan’s Department of Pathology. He later joined the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology in Ann Arbor as a faculty member. In 2015, he joined the UAB Heersink School of Medicine Department of Pathology as an associate professor and was promoted to professor in 2020. With a research career spanning more than 25 years, he has gained extensive experience in basic and translational cancer research.

Varambally’s research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of cancer initiation, progression, metastasis, and identification of therapeutic targets in various solid tumors. His team uses an integrative approach to investigate cancers using genomics, epigenetics, and bioinformatics to discover and validate biomarkers and target key oncogenes. His seminal study focused on the functional and mechanistic characterization of oncogenic histone methyltransferase, EZH2. His recent collaborative study showed that targeting ARID1A-mutated bladder cancer with FDA-approved EZH2 inhibitors is a valuable therapeutic strategy. He was involved in the landmark discovery of recurrent gene fusions of ETS transcription factors in prostate cancers and in establishing underlying biology.

Efforts to enhance precision targeting in the fight against cancer led Varambally to develop and deploy a comprehensive cancer data analysis platform, UALCAN (University of ALabama at Birmingham CANcer Portal, Yes! You All Can). This public portal allows cancer researchers and clinicians to examine cancer data and identify biomarkers and precision targets, making cancer research a global effort. The site has received more than 1.15 million visits from over 100 countries and has been cited in more than 4,000 research articles in the last 6 years. Varambally was a member of the team that won the inaugural American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Team Science Award in 2007 and received the Research Faculty Recognition Award from the University of Michigan in 2009. In 2021 he received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Society of American Asian Scientists in Cancer Research.

A prolific investigator and exemplary team player, Varambally has co-authored more than 150 manuscripts. His work has been published in Science, Nature, Cancer Cell, Cancer Discovery, Nature Medicine, Nature Biotechnology, NEJM, JAMA, Neoplasia, and Cancer Research, among other journals. His work has been cited over 43,300 times, indicating the tremendous impact of his research.

“Soory is a model of research excellence and innovative thinking at UAB,” says George Netto, M.D., Robert and Ruth Anderson Endowed Chair of Pathology. “He actively seeks opportunities to share his knowledge and can always be counted on to support others. I am grateful to the Dean’s Office for selecting him for this honor.”