Sleckman to lead O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center

Harvard-trained physician and clinician-scientist will begin his new role Jan. 6, 2020.

Sleckman1Barry Paul Sleckman, M.D., Ph.D.Barry Paul Sleckman, M.D., Ph.D., a world-renowned researcher who focuses on understanding how DNA double strand breaks are generated and repaired — a topic important for cancer and immune system development and function — has been named director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Sleckman, currently an associate director of the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, will begin his new role at UAB on Jan. 6, 2020.

“UAB is a phenomenal institution and a rapidly growing research powerhouse, fueled in part by the more than 400 talented physician-scientists and researchers at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Sleckman said. “Their ground-breaking research and treatments have far-reaching and transformational impact on cancer research and patient care in Alabama and beyond every day. It’s an honor to have an opportunity to lead a cancer center that is recognized as among the nation’s best. We will continue the work to achieve the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center vision to eliminate cancer as a major public health problem. To do this, the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center must catalyze important cancer discoveries across diverse centers, departments and schools on the UAB campus and then translate these discoveries into innovative cancer therapies in close partnership with the UAB Health System. I’m excited to be coming to Birmingham and am ready to get to work.”  

Sleckman’s research has revealed many novel pathways that function in DNA double strand break repair, including one that prevents DNA breaks from being resolved as chromosomal translocations or deletions that can lead to cancer. In addition, his laboratory was the first to show that the cellular response to DNA double strand breaks can regulate cell-type-specific pathways involved in normal cellular functions. These pathways can be disrupted, for example, in cancer patients receiving genotoxic therapies such as radiation.

“The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center provides a tremendously positive impact on Birmingham, our state and the Southeast, and Dr. Sleckman will continue to build upon our established research and clinical capabilities and help us meet the challenges all cancer centers face — specifically the way we can best serve our communities and compete in the marketplace,” said Selwyn Vickers, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “I am excited Dr. Sleckman sees that the pieces are in place for the O’Neal Cancer Center to continue to grow its impact on Alabama, the Deep South and the country, and that he will lead our efforts.” 

Sleckman completed his M.D. and Ph.D. in immunology at Harvard Medical School. He completed his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in infectious diseases at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In addition to his role as associate director, Sleckman held positions as professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and prior to this as associate director of the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University for 10 years.

After completing his postdoctoral training in molecular immunology in the laboratory of Dr. Frederick Alt at Boston Children’s Hospital, Sleckman started his own laboratory in 1998 as an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine. He moved to Weill Cornell in 2015.

“Directing the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the most vital roles in advancing UAB’s multifaceted mission,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts, M.D. “With Dr. Sleckman’s outstanding leadership, we look forward to building upon the center’s longtime impact and reputation as a global leader in translational research and patient care. As the center pushes the frontiers of precision medicine, we will continue translating our discoveries into more effective prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship, and bringing better health and hope to patients throughout Alabama, the nation and the world.” 

“Dr. Sleckman is an excellent choice to lead the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and continue to advance the great strides we have made in cancer treatment and prevention in the past several decades,” said Will Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System. “In the years ahead, the promise of proton therapy, precision oncology, advanced genomics and new therapeutics should reduce the burden of cancer on individual patients and their families, and on the health care system as a whole.” 

The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB is one of the original eight National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. It is among the nation’s leading cancer research institutions and one of only 50 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers. It has been continuously funded for 47 years.

“We applaud the selection of Barry Sleckman to lead the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center forward,” said Craft O’Neal, chairman and CEO of O’Neal Industries, a family-owned global business based in Birmingham that donated $30 million to the cancer center this past December. “Under his guidance, we are confident that the Center will continue to excel in its missions of patient care and research, of community involvement and cancer prevention, and ultimately, to eliminate cancer as a major public health problem.”

The center offers a full array of treatment options from multidisciplinary clinics filled with experts from across cancer fields to the latest state-of-the-art technology. The center is home to an outstanding faculty of 400 clinicians, scientists and clinician-scientists, many of whom are internationally and nationally recognized for their expertise in oncology. The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center treats approximately 20,000 patients annually, with an estimated 5,000 new patients each year. 

Ravi Bhatia, M.D., who has served as interim director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, will resume his role as deputy director of the center and director of the Division of Hematology-Oncology. 

“We very much appreciate the leadership and the hard work of Dr. Bhatia,” Vickers said. “He has been a steady, reassuring voice during this time of transition.”