Physician Scientist Devoted to Reduce Cancer Suffering
Internationally renowned physician-scientist, Ronald A. DePinho. MD, Honorary PhD, has made groundbreaking discoveries that have illuminated fundamental mechanisms of cancer, aging and age-associated degenerative disorders. Ron has devoted his life to reducing the burden of cancer, particularly for the underserved. His efforts to impact the cancer problem have ranged from conducting innovative research, educating the next generation of physicians and scientists, promoting public health through advocacy and policy, founding new biopharmaceutical companies, and catalyzing cross-sector collaborative programs such as the MD Anderson Cancer Moonshot, the Eliminate Cancer Initiative for brain cancer, and the Unite to Prevent Cancer program. Driven by the loss of his father to colon cancer, Ron is passionate about ending these stories for other families through the dissemination of exceptional cancer care for all, promoting prevention, and developing new more effective therapies.
Ron’s story reflects his intent on bringing scientific insights to clinical advances that change the daily practice of medicine. A physician by training, Ron has always felt the best way to solve complex problems in human disease is to conduct penetrating science in a way that illuminates a path to new diagnostics or medicines improving the care of patients. This translational theme has been foundational to his strategy in every position he has held —as president of the nation’s number one cancer center, as head of a research laboratory, as director of an institute, as founder of biotechnology companies, and as an advisor to governments, the Vatican and biopharmaceutical companies.
Born into a family of poor immigrants to the U.S. from Portugal, Ron was the third of the five children of Alvaro and Celeste DePinho who in 1939 settled into the Bronx, New York. The family’s first home in America was located near the gates of the Fordham University campus. When Ron graduated summa cum laude and Salutatorian from Fordham in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, he fulfilled his father’s dream for his children to have a better life through hard work and higher education. And taking his father’s dream a step further, Ron received his medical degree with distinction in microbiology and immunology in 1981 from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he later received its distinguished alumnus award.
With an early curiosity to understand the “why” of disease, Ron finished his internship and residency in internal medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. Ron then devoted the next stage of his career in learning science and going into the laboratory. He would later take this knowledge and insight back into the clinic and apply what he learned to medicine on a global scale.
It is this journey of training and working in medicine, science and research that has contributed to Ron becoming such a unique and special individual whose passion and leadership in the fight against cancer and age-related diseases his earned him the respect and recognition of his peers world-wide. His journey became personal when Ron’s father was fighting cancer—as he told Jim Dwyer, writer for The New York Times, “I had just gotten recognition for all these fancy schmancy papers, and I couldn’t do anything for this person I loved. I vowed that it wasn’t just about doing science. It was about making sure that those scientific discoveries drove to things that would actually help patients.” It is this feeling of not being able to do enough for someone he loved that propels Ron in whatever he takes on and in the people whose lives he touches.