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Dean Barton leaving MD Anderson UTHealth Graduate School

June 30, 2020
Message from Presidents Peter WT Pisters, MD, and Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD

Dear UTHealth and MD Anderson Communities:

It is bittersweet that we come together to announce that Dean Michelle Barton, PhD, will be leaving on August 31 to accept a leadership role at the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research Center of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, Oregon. Her eight years of leadership with Michael Blackburn, PhD, of our MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) and her 20 years of innovative research at MD Anderson have had extraordinary and lasting impacts on trainees, faculty and cancer patients alike.

Dean Barton came to MD Anderson as a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and joined the faculty of the graduate school in 2000. In 2014, she transferred to the department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis, where she holds the Colin Powell Chair for Cancer Research.

In 2012, she accepted the novel role as one of a two-dean leadership team of our graduate school. Throughout her tenure, she worked tirelessly to advocate for our students and to implement programs that put them on a path for success. Together with UTHealth’s Dean Blackburn, Dean Barton established a grant navigator program that doubled the number of student fellowship proposals submitted and increased funding success. They initiated the creation of the core course to provide a hard-wired foundation in graduate-level biosciences to all first-year students. A thoughtful reorganization of the program structure in 2016 enhanced collaboration between our two institutions and focused on the needs of individual students, reducing the number of formal doctoral programs from 13 to nine. Recently, the school received its most transformative gift to date from alumnus John J. Kopchick, PhD, and wife Charlene, $10.5 million to fund student fellowships.

Dr. Barton’s research focuses on studying the fundamental mechanisms of regulated and aberrant gene expression during development, tissue regeneration and cancer, as dictated by chromatin structure modification, and especially on the p53- family, their interacting protein partners and chromatin structure. Using deep sequencing, proteomic analyses and bioinformatics, her lab is determining chromatin interactions, post-translational modifications and protein partners of the p53 tumor suppressor. She identified TRIM24, a previously unknown E3-ubiquitin ligase of p53 that co-activates estrogen receptors and is a histone reader of a unique signature present at estrogen-regulated genes in breast cancer cells. During her tenure, she successfully mentored and trained dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and also contributed to teaching several courses within the school.

Over the course of her career, she has published numerous articles and received many well-deserved honors, including MD Anderson’s Faculty Achievement Award in Education, the Robert M. Chamberlain Distinguished Mentor Award, the Paul Darlington Award for Outstanding Mentoring and the Julie and Ben Rogers Award for Excellence in Education. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Next Steps

The partnership between our two institutions is a point of pride for us and we are dedicated to strengthening that relationship and working together to make GSBS the premiere graduate school for biomedical education in the country. MD Anderson and UTHealth both have outstanding faculty who are dedicated to their science and their trainees, and we are working to ensure they have the support they need.

We plan to move forward under the leadership of Dean Blackburn.  A simpler administrative structure is aligned with the vision of the UT System Board of Regents and will enable us to dedicate more resources to the fundamental educational mission of the school.  Faculty from both institutions will continue to have input into student recruitment, curriculum, and laboratory research opportunities for our students.

Please join us in thanking both Dean Barton and Dean Blackburn for their extraordinary service to the school and our students. Our best wishes to Dean Barton in her new leadership role and our sincere gratitude to Dean Blackburn for continuing his exemplary leadership of the school.

We are partners in our commitment to training future generations of scientists, and we are determined to continually strengthen the connections between our two institutions. We are stronger and better together, and we are steadfast in our pledge to create the best training environment possible for all of our graduate students.


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