Personal Statement

My research has focused on the use of comprehensive genomic methods, next generation sequencing, and computational and predictive modeling to discover new genomic abnormalities in leukemia and other cancers, and, translating these to discoveries to improved means of cancer diagnosis, monitoring, and therapeutic intervention.

During my career, I have led several multidisciplinary, multi-institutional teams of scientists and physicians focused on: 1) discovery of genomic abnormalities and their translation to new diagnostics, predictive genomic signatures, and targeted therapeutic interventions to improve outcome in leukemia; 2) discovery of novel spectra of cancer-promoting genomic mutations and genome-wide mutational signatures reflective of environmental exposures and cancer risk behaviors in disparities cancers; and 3) development of new therapeutic strategies, including nanotherapeutics, in pre-clinical animal models and national clinical trials through the NCTN.

I have been continuously funded by NIH since 1993 and NCI since 2000 and currently serve as co-Leader of the NCI TARGET Project in High-Risk ALL (the pediatric component of TCGA); as MPI (Contact PI) with Dr. Jeffrey Trent of TGen of a newly funded NCI Participant Engagement-Cancer Genome Sequencing (PE-CGS) Research Center, focused on culturally appropriate engagement of American Indians and Hispanics in comprehensive clinical cancer genomic sequencing and translation of these discoveries to therapeutic and preventive interventions; as PI of 3 grants supporting correlative studies in NCTN-sponsored national leukemia clinical trials; and as PD/PI of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center NCI P30 Cancer Center Support Grant.

One of my laboratory’s most impactful, practice-changing, and paradigm shifting scientific accomplishments was discovery of a previously unrecognized form of ALL termed “Philadelphia chromosome-like ALL” (or “Ph-like ALL”) and the mapping of the highly heterogeneous spectrum of genomic mutations in tyrosine kinases or genes regulating tyrosine kinase signaling pathways in this disease (NEJM. 2009 Jan 29; 360(5):470-480; PNAS USA. 2009. Jun 9; 106(23):9414-8; Blood. 2010. Jul 1; 115-26:5312-21; Cancer Cell. 2012 Aug. 14; 22(2):153-66; NEJM. 2014. Sept 11; 371(11); 1005-1015).

These discoveries led to more than 40 publications in high impact journals and two patents from our laboratory for FDA-accepted genomic predictors which have been translated to 5 NCTN-sponsored national leukemia clinical trials (NCT01406756, NCT02723994, NCT02003222, NCT02143414, NCT03150693). These trials are testing kinase inhibitor therapies and/or are incorporating genomic predictors for stratification and therapeutic targeting.

We also first reported that Ph-like ALL has a particularly high prevalence in patients with Hispanic ethnicity and/or American Indian genetic ancestry, and with our TARGET collaborators, linked Ph-like ALL to specific germline risk alleles, revealing that the poor clinical outcomes historically seen in these groups results in part from differences in genomic mutations and disease biology, rather than socioeconomic and other disparities factors.

Over the past several years, I have laid the foundation for formal biomedical research partnerships with Southwestern Tribal Nations in support of cancer research and genomic science that are respectful of Tribal sovereignity concerns and which have had a paradigm shifting and public policy impact on national data sharing policies and research with vulnerable populations.

I serve as a member of the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA), the Scientific Advisory Board of the NCI-Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, and the Steering Committee overseeing NCI-DOE scientific collaborations. As Chair or a Member of the Scientific Advisory Boards of 11 NCI Cancer Centers, I have extensive experience in leadership and national cancer policy.


Fellowship: UNM School of Medicine (July 1985), Specialty in Pathology
Residency: UNM School of Medicine (July 1984), Specialty in Anatomical & Clinical Pathology
Internship: UNM School of Medicine (July 1984), Specialty in Anatomical & Clinical Pathology
Medical School: Mayo Medical School (July 1981)

Achievements & Awards

The Maurice and Marguerite Liberman Distinguished Endowed Chair in Cancer Research