Science & Technology

Three faculty named Georgia Cancer Coalition Scholars

Georgia Cancer Coalition names three UGA Distinguished Scholars

Three University of Georgia scientists—John Vena, Jason Zastre and Claire Robb—have been named by the Georgia Cancer Coalition as Distinguished Cancer Scholars for 2008-09. Together, they will receive $1.25 million over five years to support their research efforts through the coalition’s Distinguished Cancer Clinicians and Scientists program. The coalition selects scientists engaged in the most promising areas of cancer research who can strengthen the state’s research talent, capacity, infrastructure and funding.

Vena is the newly appointed professor and chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics and the UGA Foundation endowed professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health. He studies factors that affect the health of populations and is currently researching occupational and environmental risk factors that impact breast, lung and bladder cancers.

“Dr. Vena is committed to building the Cancer Prevention and Control program in the UGA College of Public Health,” said College of Public Health Dean Phillip L. Williams. “He will also continue to build collaborations within UGA and with the East Georgia Cancer Network, Medical College of Georgia, Emory University and other partners across the state.”

Zastre is an assistant professor in the UGA College of Pharmacy department of pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences. His research aims to increase the uptake, efficiency and selection of drugs used in chemotherapy by better understanding how to regulate cell transporters that have demonstrated resistance to therapeutic treatment.

Robb is an assistant professor in the College of Public Health department of epidemiology and biostatistics. Her research has focused on physical function and psychosocial factors that impact older cancer patients. Her goal is to better understand factors that contribute to treatment outcomes in older patients and to eliminate disparities in treatment of the elderly.

Since its inception in 2001, the Georgia Cancer Coalition has named 117 Distinguished Scholars. Fourteen have been named at the University of Georgia.

“Funding scholars is an investment not only in Georgia’s future as a national leader in cancer control, but also is valuable in attracting increased funding to Georgia for cancer research,” said GCC President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Todd.

The 14 GCC scholars at UGA are among the more than 40 researchers who are members of the UGA Cancer Center, a multi-disciplinary center that was founded in 2004 to bring the talents of the university’s researchers to the fight against cancer.

“The support of the Georgia Cancer Coalition has been critical in advancing our efforts to improve the prevention and treatment of cancer,” said Michael Pierce, director of the UGA Cancer Center and Mudter Professor in Cancer Research. “Our newest distinguished scholars join a talented and dedicated group of researchers who are committed to research that aims to improve the health and quality of life of Georgians.”

The GCC review committee examines the scholars’ history of grants, publications and patents, and considers the researchers’ potential for attracting future funding. In fiscal year 2007, GCC distinguished scholars were responsible for bringing $47 million in privately and federally funded research grants into the state of Georgia.

Selection is based on how the applicant’s research relates to the goals of the coalition, the research priorities of the National Cancer Institute and the strategic plan of the sponsoring institution. Each application is reviewed by both an external scientific review committee and an advisory review committee appointed by the coalition in cooperation with Georgia’s research universities. Members rank scholars according to predetermined scientific and technical criteria.

“The National Cancer Institute has identified areas of discovery that hold promise for making significant progress against all cancers,” Todd said. “The Distinguished Cancer Clinicians and Scientists program is the cornerstone of the Georgia Cancer Coalition’s efforts to advance scientific discovery into the prevention, treatment, causes, and cures of cancer. These scientists play an important role in positioning Georgia as a national leader in cancer research.”

The Georgia Cancer Coalition is an independent, not-for-profit organization that unites government agencies, academic institutions, civic groups, corporations and health care organizations in a concerted effort to strengthen cancer prevention, research and treatment in Georgia, with the ultimate goal of making Georgia one of the nation’s premier states for cancer care. The mission is to reduce the number of cancer-related deaths in Georgia. The coalition is the first of its kind in the nation. For more information, see

To learn more about the UGA Cancer Center, see