Paula Vertino Takes the Reins as Leader of Basic Science at SMD

Jan. 19, 2023

Paula Vertino, Ph.D., an accomplished cancer research scientist and leader at the Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has been appointed senior associate dean for Basic Research effective February 1, 2023. 

GEM Paula Vertino PhD

Vertino was recruited to Wilmot in 2018 to transform its research endeavors by breaking down silos and promoting collaboration and team science. She enjoys identifying commonalities and bringing people together in a “grass roots” approach.

She sees her new role as an opportunity to interact more broadly across the Medical Center to enhance cross-programmatic communication; to work with institutional leadership to create an environment that fosters faculty and trainee success; and to further integrate the basic and clinical research enterprise – something that’s been top-of-mind since she joined the University.

“I feel strongly that, as a leader, one needs to be as invested in what others are doing as in one’s own research program, and have worked hard to use this approach as a way of bringing people together to facilitate research interactions,” noted Vertino, the Wilmot Distinguished Professor in Cancer Genomics.

"Paula's role in bridging the gap from very basic science to more applied cancer clinical work, along with the enrichment she's already brought to our educational programs, makes her a perfect fit for this position," said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry and CEO of URMC. "We can't wait to see her new ideas come to fruition and help continue to foster a vibrant research community here at SMD." 

Steven Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, noted the impact Vertino quickly made at the University since moving to Rochester four years ago, and is confident she will continue making advances in her new role. 

"One of Paula’s many gifts is her ability to build connections between people, and to make members of our scientific community feel valued and included,” Dewhurst said. “She’s a brilliant scientist, but she’s also warm and kind - making a point to visit new faculty just to say hello and make them feel welcome.” 

Vertino, who is also professor of Biomedical Genetics and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, has played an integral role in Wilmot’s ongoing bid for NCI designation. She also pioneered a new elective concentration in cancer biology, which saw its first graduate last May. And she continues to work closely with researchers at the UR Aging Institute to develop ways for older cancer patients to use digital technology, such as mobile apps, for behavioral and supportive care interventions.

Vertino, along with Kah Poh Loh, MBBCh (Flw ’18, Flw ’19), a hematologist, oncologist, and geriatrician, as well as Michelle Janelsins-Benton, Ph.D. (MS ‘05, PhD ‘08, MPH ’13), associate professor of Surgery, Radiation Oncology, and Neuroscience, were awarded the inaugural UR Aging Institute pilot grant last year – a perfect example of the type of cross-center collaboration Vertino hopes to inspire.

Her research focuses on epigenetics and how alterations in gene expression promote cancer progression. Her work also seeks to understand how such alterations arise and can be reprogrammed as a therapeutic strategy.

A western New York native and loyal Buffalo Bills fan, Vertino packed up a 22-year career at Emory University in Atlanta, where she helped them receive NCI designation and established new educational programs for trainees. To get to know Vertino, see this Q&A from when she first arrived in Rochester.

“I envision the further development of team science as a key component of our success, as well as greater integration of research across the continuum of basic, clinical, translational and population sciences,” she says. “That is, for everyone in our research community to be motivated and strengthened by a desire to move forward as a collective, as an institution.”

Vertino takes over for Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D., who's held the role since Jan. 1, 2016 and stepped down in late 2022.