UGA taps North Carolina cancer researcher as new vice president for research

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia has chosen as its new vice president for research a University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill science administrator and researcher who specializes in research on growth and regulation of cancer cells.

David Lee, professor and chair of the biochemistry and biophysics department at UNC and leader of the cancer cell biology program in the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, will become UGA’s vice president for research early in fall semester pending approval by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

Lee’s appointment was announced today by Arnett C. Mace Jr., UGA’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Lee, who is also a professor of microbiology and immunology at UNC, was chosen in a national search to succeed Gordhan Patel, who is retiring Aug. 1 after nearly 38 years on the UGA faculty including the last four as research vice president.

Patel, who also served 13 years as dean of the Graduate School and was head of the former zoology department, will be honored at an all-campus ice cream social Sept. 21 from 3 to 5 p.m. on the D.W. Brooks Mall. The rain location will be the Tate Center Reception Hall.

Lee joined UNC in 1985 and since 1991 has been leader of the cancer cell biology program in the Lineberger Center, a part of the UNC School of Medicine. He has headed the biochemistry and biophysics department since 1998.

His research, which deals with growth factors and receptors involved in development of cancer cells, has been supported continuously by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1985 and has resulted in more than 100 scientific publications written with collaborators around the world.

Lee received UNC’s Hettleman Prize for scholarly achievement in 1994 and in 2003 was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served as both ad hoc and permanent member of several NIH peer review panels.

“David Lee is one of the rising stars in America’s scientific research community, and his skills, experience and vision are exactly what we need to achieve new heights of productivity and recognition for our research program,” said UGA President Michael F. Adams. “We’re very excited and pleased with this appointment, and look forward to dynamic advances in all areas of research under David’s leadership.”

Lee will oversee research activities in UGA’s 15 academic schools and colleges and in a number of internationally recognized interdisciplinary centers and institutes. With research income of nearly $160 million and research expenditures of about $313 million in the last fiscal year, UGA ranked 22nd among public universities and 34th among all universities in research expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation.

In addition to administering sponsored research programs, the vice president’s office is also responsible for compliance with federal and state regulations governing research; management of research funding and accounting; research communications; development of research infrastructure, such as laboratories and specialized services; and oversight of start-up companies based on discoveries at UGA.

The office also helps protect UGA intellectual property through patents, trademarks and licensing. The university annually receives more than $4 million in licensing and royalties generated through research.

Mace said Lee “has the expertise and experience to significantly advance research programs of the University of Georgia, particularly in human health and biomedical sciences research. He is highly respected as a scientist and as an administrator with the unique ability to bring people together and build teams to focus on institutional and funding agencies’ priorities.

“David’s interpersonal and scientific skills, coupled with his ability to implement programs, will add immensely to our research agenda,” Mace added. “I look forward to working with him to significantly advance our programs.”

Lee said he is “honored and excited to be chosen as Gordhan Patel’s successor, and I am deeply grateful for the broad support I have received during the search process. I hope to build on the substantial efforts of Gordhan and his predecessor, Joe Key, and to thus help advance UGA’s research mission.

“I very much look forward to working with Provost Mace and many others at UGA to promote President Adams’s goal of moving the university to the next level, making it one of the world’s finest. My family and I are also keen to join the Athens community. We consider this to be a fantastic opportunity to work at a great public university, one that has a deeply felt mission of service to the state and the world.”

As chair of UNC’s biochemistry and biophysics department Lee introduced several new research initiatives, hired 10 new faculty members, doubled the size of the graduate program, increased the number of student fellowships and started a distinguished women in science lecture program.

Two department faculty members have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and three to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences during his tenure, and the department has climbed from 30th to eighth in rankings by the NIH.

The cancer cell biology program is the largest basic science program in the Lineberger Cancer Center, which is UNC’s largest research entity. Lee has worked to make the program more interdisciplinary by drawing in faculty from across the UNC campus, and the faculty has grown from 31 to 45 since he’s been program leader. He also worked to enlarge the center’s facilities and he created a cancer cell biology predoctoral training program in the center.

Lee has helped start two model research support facilities, in DNA and histopathology research, in the School of Medicine, and helped provide space and funding for other core facilities in the school.

He has also been a leader in providing better working conditions for postdoctoral students at UNC, helping instate a policy for improvements in minimum salaries, vacations and grievance procedures. He also created a graduate core course in cell biology and a science ethics course for entering graduate students.

Lee holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University and received his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Washington. He did postdoctoral work in biological chemistry at Washington University and in pharmacology at the University of Washington. Before joining UNC he worked two years as a senior scientist for Oncogen Corp, a subsidiary of Bristol-Myers.