UArizona Cancer Center Names Joann Sweasy as New Director

Joann Sweasy, PhD, interim director for the past nine months, has been named director of the University of Arizona Cancer Center, and the inaugural holder of the Nancy C. and Craig M. Berge Endowed Chair for the director of the Cancer Center.

As director, Sweasy will set the vision, priorities and strategies for the center, as well as provide leadership in continuing to build its international, national, regional and local impact, visibility and reputation. In this key leadership role, Sweasy will serve as the chief adviser to the university in cancer-related matters and will serve as  principal investigator of the Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute, which designates the center as an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Sweasy also will continue to build an accomplished leadership team and community of engaged investigators, working in transdisciplinary, translational and collaborative research; advanced cancer care and novel clinical trials; cancer training and mentorship; and community outreach that fosters communication and engagement.

“Dr. Sweasy has demonstrated exceptional leadership as the interim director for the center,” said Michael D. Dake, MD, senior vice president, UArizona Health Sciences, and  professor of medical imaging, medicine and surgery. “I look forward to Dr. Sweasy’s continued leadership in training the next generation of researchers and clinicians, collaborating across disciplines, departments, colleges and clinical partners, and reducing health disparities across the state. I am confident the UArizona Cancer Center will continue to expand its impact throughout Arizona and beyond.”

“I am incredibly honored to be named director of the Cancer Center and to become the inaugural holder of the Nancy C. and Craig M. Berge Endowed Chair for the Director of the Cancer Center,” Sweasy said. “The Cancer Center can realize its vision because the leaders of the university, Health Sciences and the center are all enthusiastically invested in our mission to prevent and cure cancer. I am thrilled about our future and the engagement of the community and civic leaders, the excitement of the researchers, and the vital service we provide to patients across Arizona as the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center based in Arizona.”

Sweasy joined the Cancer Center in June 2019 as associate director for basic sciences and was appointed to faculty positions at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson in the Departments of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Radiation Oncology. As associate director for basic sciences, Sweasy has developed and promoted research for the growth in cancer basic sciences. She also has worked closely with the Cancer Center research programs, ensuring basic science is well-integrated across the four established programs: cancer biology, therapeutic development, cancer imaging, and cancer prevention and control.

“During the past year, I have come to know our center leaders and researchers very well,” Sweasy said. “I have found them absolutely remarkable and also have been impressed with our committed group of donors who continue to provide amazing support for the center. With the continued support of cancer center members, donors and the institution, our full impact on every Arizonan can be realized.”

An expert in DNA repair and genomic instability, Sweasy’s research focuses on how aberrant DNA repair leads to mutations that result in human diseases, such as cancer. A major focus of her laboratory is to understand how genetic variants in DNA repairs genes, including genes that function in homology-directed repair, non-homologous end-joining and base-excision repair impact cancer risk and treatment.

“I look forward to a bright future at the Cancer Center as we continue to advance first-class cancer research and clinical care,” Sweasy said. “We will continue to build upon the strong basic, translational and clinical sciences with community engagement, and I am committed as well to increasing the diversity of the next generation of cancer researchers.”

Prior to joining UArizona Health Sciences, Sweasy was associate director for basic sciences and co-leader of the Radiobiology and Radiotherapy Program at the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she oversaw pilot funding for the Yale Cancer Center and cancer-focused internal grant competitions at Yale University. She also is an adjunct professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont.

Sweasy received her doctorate in microbiology at Rutgers University and conducted postdoctoral studies at the University of Washington. 

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