Karen Mustian, PhD, MPH, tenured dean’s professor in the Division of Cancer Control, Department of Surgery, and a longtime leader at the Wilmot Cancer Institute, has been promoted to Associate Director of Population Science at Wilmot. The new position took effect July 1, 2023.
Mustian joined the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2003 as a research assistant professor and the inaugural fellow in the URMC National Cancer Institute-funded Cancer Control Training Program. Upon completion, she accepted a position at URMC as a tenure-track assistant professor. Since then, Mustian has risen through the ranks while also growing a robust career specializing in exercise and integrative medicine to alleviate the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment. She is a national and international leader in that field, and helped to craft American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines for patient care.
Most recently, she has been co-leader of Wilmot’s Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) research program. Mustian will continue to oversee that program in her new position. During the past five years, Mustian has been highly effective at CPC, increasing peer-reviewed funding by 67% since 2019 to a current total of $9.5 million, 87% of which is from the NCI. She also broadened the program by recruiting new members engaged in cancer-prevention research in diverse areas such as cervical cancer screening, lung cancer screening, genetic screening, tobacco cessation, vaping prevention, Human Papilloma Virus vaccination, and weight loss intervention, while also growing the traditional base of the program in cancer control and care delivery. Twelve new members joined the program during this period.
“Dr. Mustian has been a vital member of the cancer institute, and it is a pleasure to welcome her to the executive committee and this top leadership position,” said Wilmot Director Jonathan Friedberg, MD, MMSc. “She is nationally and internationally respected for her work, and most importantly, her voice has been quite valuable during a recent period of tremendous growth and change at Wilmot.”
Associate Directors work closely with Friedberg and Deputy Director Hucky Land, PhD, providing input on all policy decisions and key issues involving Wilmot’s research programs, shared resources, clinical trials, intramural grants, recruitment and retention, career development, and diversity equity and inclusion efforts.
“I experienced cancer first-hand when both of my grandmothers were diagnosed with and eventually died as a result of cancer and again when my father was successfully treated for colon cancer,” Mustian said. “I felt helpless and couldn’t understand why they were suffering so much with toxic side effects from their surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. As a clinical exercise physiologist working with cancer patients for over 20 years, I discovered the powerful medicine available through yoga and exercise for cancer supportive care. I know first-hand the impact our Wilmot scientists, providers, staff, and volunteers have on the lives of patients and their loved ones — and I am honored and absolutely thrilled to serve as AD for Population Science at Wilmot.”
The trajectory of Mustian’s career at URMC and Wilmot has been impressive.
In 2009, to support her research in exercise physiology, she founded and directed a unique human performance clinical research lab, known as PEAK. Meanwhile, Wilmot’s extraordinary strength in cancer control research was repeatedly recognized over the years with longstanding funding from the NCI for a National Community Oncology Research Program Research Base at UR award, known as NCORP. Mustian began serving in NCORP leadership positions in 2014, and currently is a principal investigator and co-director. In 2019, the URMC received $29 million from NCORP, placing Wilmot at the hub of a national clinical trials research network under Mustian’s leadership. She is also a member of the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors.
Mustian is a principal investigator for an R01 award (Optimizing Functional Outcomes of Older Survivors after Chemotherapy) and holds a subproject-PI position on a global Cancer Grand Challenge in Cancer Cachexia grant.