DCI Faculty Shine with 2021 School of Medicine Awards


Duke Cancer Institute faculty captured five of 22 Duke University School of Medicine faculty awards announced by the School on April 14. (An additional award, the Michelle Winn Inclusive Excellence Award will be announced at a later date.)

We congratulate them on these well-deserved honors!

Faculty Teaching Award

The Gordon G. Hammes Faculty Teaching Award recognizes continuing excellence in teaching and mentoring and exemplary commitment to the education of graduate students within Basic Science Departments and Graduate Training Programs of the School of Medicine. The nominees and the winner, Beth Sullivan, PhD, was selected by a graduate student committee.


Beth A. Sullivan, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, associate dean for Research Training, and director of the Genetics and Genomics Cluster of the Duke Focus Program Executive Committee, DEEP.

She is also is a member of Duke Cancer Institute and an associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. In January 2021, Sullivan was named editor-in-chief of the journal Chromosome Research.

Sullivan's laboratory, the Sullivan Lab, is part of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Research in her lab is focused on chromosome organization, with a specific emphasis on the genomics and epigenetics of the chromosomal locus called the centromere and the formation and fate of chromosome abnormalities that are associated with birth defects, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. The Sullivan Lab's research is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Duke Cancer Institute.

"An exciting and important leadership (award) in research training! Congrats Dr. Sullivan. Proud to be a @DukeMGM SURE fellow alum!" Tweeted Quang Nguyen, referring to the Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Summer Undergraduate Research Engagment program he attended as an undergrad at Duke. Nguyen is currently a PhD student with Oxford's Nuffield Department of Medicine (NDM) where his focus is engineering cell regulators against cancer, viruses and immune-aging diseases.

Research Mentoring Awards

The Research Mentoring Awards honor outstanding research mentors who demonstrate excellence in numerous aspects of mentoring, including accomplishments of individual mentees, programs implemented by the mentor or by exceptional creativity in mentoring.

Three DCI faculty garnered a Research Mentoring Award: Kimberly Johnson, MD, Gayathri Devi, PhD, and David Kirsch, MD, PhD.

Career Mentoring Award in Clinical Science – Population Health


Kimberly S. Johnson, MD, is a professor in the Department of Medicine and director of the Duke Center for Research to Advance Healthcare Equity (REACH EQUITY). Johnson is also a member of Duke Cancer Institute and a senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. Her clinical specialties are geriatric medicine and palliative medicine. Broadly, her research is in health disparities and implicit bias.

The REACH Equity center was launched in 2017, with Johnson as director, after she applied for and was awarded a Centers of Excellence grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant. The Center's focus is on the clinical encounter.

One research area of Johnson's is health disparities in hospice and palliative care. According to a January 2020 profile in the School of Medicine Magnify blog, "some of Johnson's research has focused on finding ways to increase the use of hospice, palliative care, and advance care planning among African Americans through education, partnerships with faith communities, and increasing the percentage of African Americans hospice workers."

REACH offers funding, training, and peer-support for investigators at all stages of their career, from medical students to senior researchers. Many of these projects are partially funded by the Offices of Dean Mary Klotman, MD, of the School of Medicine and Chancellor Eugene Washington, MD.

Sarahn Wheeler, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology who received a Career Development Award from REACH to study ways of reducing pre-term birth rates among black women, had this to say about the center (in that same Magnify post), "Most often when I present my work, it’s to people who are very knowledgeable from the obstetrics standpoint, but not people who are experts in disparities research,” she said. “So it’s very helpful to have [colleagues who] understand that aspect of the work and can rigorously appraise the methodology.”

Early Career Mentoring Award in Basic/ Translational Science

Larisa Gearhart-Serna and Gayathri Devi
Gayathri Devi, PhD, and PhD candidate Larisa Gearhart-Serna, oversaw lab experiments on aggressive breast cancer cells that helped reveal the central role of the JAG1 ligand in the cells' differentiation and metastasis.
Gayathri Devi, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Sciences, and an associate professor in the Department of Pathology, Clinical Science Departments. She is also a DCI member and director of Duke Cancer Institute's Consortium for Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

Her laboratory, the Cell Death Laboratory, focuses on translational and clinical applications of programmed cell death signaling. Cell death is a critical process in tissue sculpting, adult cell homeostasis, for destruction of damaged cells and in pathobiology. The lab is particularly interested in elucidating molecular mechanisms of stress-induced cell survival/death signaling in normal and cancer cells and how this process regulates immune response.

Devi also serves as associate director for Research Education and leads the Duke MERITS education initiative in the Department of Surgery. Duke MERITS improves the ability of basic science & clinical faculty to collaborate effectively and create the next generation of translational research scientists.

Career Mentoring Award in Basic/ Translational Science

David Kirsch, MD, PhD, mentoring Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD, in his lab
David Kirsch, MD, PhD, mentoring Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD, in his lab, when she was a graduate student. Mowery is now on faculty as the Butler Harris Assistant Professor in Radiation Oncology.

David Kirsch, MD, PhD, is the Barbara Levine University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology, Clinical Science Departments and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Pharmacology & Cancer Biology, Basic Science Departments. Kirsch is also a Duke Cancer Institute member and an affiliate of the Regeneration Next Initiative.

His clinical interests are the multi-modality care of patients with bone and soft tissue sarcomas and developing new sarcoma therapies.

His laboratory, the Kirsch Lab, utilizes mouse genetics and molecular and cell biology to study sarcoma development, metastasis and sarcoma response to radiation therapy and novel cancer treatments. Kirsch mentors many graduate students, medical students, MD/PhD students, residents and post-docs. Students say he encourages collaboration, intellectual curiosity & independent thinking, and he's a source of honest and constructive feedback and personalized mentorship. READ ARTICLE

Whitehead Scholars Program

The Whitehead Scholars Program, supported through a gift from the Whitehead Charitable Foundation, helps attract and nurture the most promising biomedical researchers to the faculty at Duke University School of Medicine.


Pixu Shi, PhD, is one of three Duke University School of Medicine faculty to be named a Whitehead Scholar.

Shi joined the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics in 2020 and is a faculty member of the DCI's bioinformatics group. She earned her PhD in 2016 from the University of Pennsylvania, where her dissertation was on "Statistical Methods for Compositional and Tree-Structured Count Data in Microbiome Studies."

Shi has published extensively on statistical methodology for the analysis of microbiome sequencing studies. She is currently developing methods for the analysis of longitudinal microbiome data, integration of multi-omic data, differential analysis of cell type composition using bulk- and single-cell RNA-Seq data, and tumor infiltrating bacteria from FFPE (a form of preservation and preparation for biopsy specimens) samples.

Shi is actively collaborating with several DCI members, including breast medical oncologist and medical director for the Duke Center for Brain & Spine Metastasis at DCI (DCBSM), Carey Anders, MD; surgical director of DCBSM and director of the Goodwin Lab, Rory Goodwin, MD, PhD;
molecular physiologist and cancer biologist Matthew Hirschey, PhD; chief of Breast Surgery Oncology, Shelley Hwang, MD, MPH;  associate director for Translational Research at DCI and director of the McDonnell Lab, Donald McDonnell, PhD; and medical oncologist and director of DCI's Melanoma disease group April Salama, MD.

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