Dr. Michelle Barton, left, and Dr. Michael Blackburn
Dr. Michelle Barton, left, and Dr. Michael Blackburn

Barton and Blackburn are serving jointly in the position held previously for 13 years by Dr. George Stancel, who also serves as executive vice president for Academic and Research Affairs.

Barton earned her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. Prior to joining the MD Anderson faculty in 2000, she served on the faculty at the University of Cincinnati. Barton has been a member of the GSBS faculty since her arrival at MD Anderson, and her research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and more recently by two major awards from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Her research on stem cells, liver regeneration, and breast cancer is unified by a focus on chromatic function and roles of tumor suppressor p53 in normal cells. Proteomic and genome-wide approaches in Barton’s laboratory led to identification of previously unknown p53-protein partners in stem cells, including a histone reader that negatively regulates p53, co-regulates estrogen receptors, and currently is under development by MD Anderson’s Institute for Applied Cancer Sciences as a potential therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Blackburn earned his doctorate in developmental biology from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He was a NIH postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at Baylor College of Medicine. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a member of the GSBS faculty since 1997. Blackburn has developed and characterized numerous models designed to examine the contribution of endogenous adenosine to the regulation of chronic diseases such as COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension. Collectively, his research efforts have led to the development of novel therapies for the treatment of chronic lung diseases that include adenosine deaminase enzyme therapy and the use of specific adenosine receptor antagonists to regulate pulmonary inflammation and remodeling. His work has been continuously funded by the NIH for 15 years, and he has received several awards, including an American Lung Association Career Development Award and a Young Investigator Award from the American Asthma Foundation.

Together, Barton and Blackburn have trained 24 GSBS students and have received numerous teaching and mentoring awards, including the Paul E. Darlington Mentor Award.

They both have directed GSBS graduate programs and have served on virtually every standing committee, including as chair of the GSBS Executive Committee. The faculty has recognized their abilities to lead, having elected both Blackburn (2009) and Barton (2012) to serve as president of the Graduate School faculty.

“The partnership between UTHealth and MD Anderson enables this unique and exceptional opportunity for joint leadership by two of our most outstanding, respected, and valued faculty members,” wrote Colasurdo and DePinho. “We are fully committed to their joint leadership to continue developing GSBS into one of the top educational programs in the nation. We are confident that this partnership in the administration and support of GSBS will further enhance its mission of graduate education and research.”