Texas Agency Helps to Attract Pediatric Cancer Researcher to Dell Medical School

AUSTIN, Texas — Made possible by a $2 million recruitment grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), The University of Texas at Austin has hired cancer researcher John Powers, Ph.D., as an assistant professor of pediatrics at Dell Medical School. He will work closely with the medical school’s Dell Pediatric Research Institute, Department of Oncology and LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes; and with cancer researchers at the university’s College of Pharmacy.

John Powers

The recruitment grant comes through CPRIT’s First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member Awards, which aim to recruit distinguished cancer researchers to Texas institutions. To date, CPRIT has awarded $1.98 billion in grants to escalate the fight against cancer.         

Powers is an alumnus of UT Austin, where he received an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a Ph.D. in molecular genetics and microbiology. He is currently a Research Associate in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Boston Children’s Hospital. His appointment at UT Austin begins Aug. 1.

“This is exciting news for Dell Med, the university and our local community, especially considering that cancer is the leading cause of death in Travis County,” said Gail Eckhardt, M.D., chair of oncology and director of the medical school’s LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes. “We are building a powerhouse team focused on revolutionizing cancer care, and groundbreaking research is a critical part of this effort.”

In his work, Powers focuses on understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms leading to pediatric neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in certain types of nerve tissue and often affects young children. In the U.S., neuroblastoma accounts for approximately 6 percent of childhood cancers.

Poor prognosis in neuroblastoma is frequently driven by a gene with the potential to cause cancer known as MYCN. Powers’ research has led to a greater understanding of how this gene becomes amplified and dysregulated, a situation that leads to neuroblastoma.

“His novel discoveries have opened several new avenues of cancer research, in particular identifying new therapeutic targets for treating this disease,” said John DiGiovanni, Ph.D., a researcher at the Dell Pediatric Research Institute and associate director for basic research in the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes. “In addition to valuable expertise, Dr. Powers also brings an important interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to his work.”

Collaboration is key to achieving Dell Med’s goal of more quickly translating research discoveries into better health outcomes for patients, said Chris Webb, Ph.D., the school’s associate dean for research and chief research officer. “Beyond recruiting for expertise, we are interested in attracting researchers to UT Austin who will thrive in a collaborative environment.”