The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston today announced Alejandro Aballay, Pharm.D., Ph.D., a national leader in immune signaling and graduate education, has been named dean of the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, effective Jan. 2, 2024.
“Dr. Aballay is a consummate scientist with a vision for enhancing the graduate school’s national standing and global presence,” said Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, M.D., president of UTHealth Houston and the Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair at UTHealth Houston. “As the graduate school celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, we look forward to Dr. Aballay leading us toward an exciting future.”
Currently, Aballay serves as professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland. He joined OHSU in 2017 and in his six years as chair, Aballay focused on faculty recruitment, mentoring and retention, as well as intradepartmental collaboration and a major building renovation to enhance laboratory space. He also led the department’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly building a biosafety Level 2 Plus (BSL-2+) lab to facilitate grant applications to study the new virus.
“Educating and training the next generation of cancer scientists is critical to advancing our mission to end cancer. After a competitive national search, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Aballay as dean of our graduate school,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “Dr. Aballay will work with interprofessional teams to ensure the graduate school’s programs continue to align with the evolving competencies students need to advance scientific discovery and health technologies in the coming decades.”
Aballay has a broad research program encompassing genetics, functional genomics and neurobiological approaches to study mechanisms involved in the neural control of immune responses and cellular homeostatic mechanisms. Given his research expertise, Aballay will be appointed professor of Genetics at MD Anderson, with a joint appointment in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.
During his graduate studies, Aballay developed an interest in bacterial physiology and regulation while studying the intracellular transport of the bacterial pathogen Brucella abortus. He earned a doctorate in Molecular and Cell Biology from the Nacional de Cuyo University Medical School and a doctorate in Pharmacology from Juan Agustín Maza University in Mendoza, Argentina. He also studied cell biology at Washington University in St. Louis during his graduate studies. Following his doctoral work, he completed postdoctoral fellowships in Molecular Pathogenesis at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where he developed a novel pathogenesis system using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.
His independent academic career began in 2002 as assistant professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, where he studied what makes bacteria pathogenic and how hosts become resistant to infection. Rising through the academic ranks, he was appointed associate professor in 2009 and professor in 2016. He served as director of Duke’s Center for Host-Microbial Interactions from 2014 to 2017.
“I am proud to be joining these stellar institutions and, together, working to educate some of the top minds in the world,” Aballay said. “Our future is bright and full of new opportunities to foster collaboration in interprofessional teams to expand our horizons and strengthen graduate education.”
Aballay has long been committed to education, creating a robust training environment for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, medical students and medical fellows. In addition to mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, he has served as training grant director and as a member of the executive, advisory and admissions committees in four graduate programs. He was also a thesis committee member for graduate students at Duke.
Aballay will work closely with members of the leadership team at school, including Sharon Dent, Ph.D., chair of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis at MD Anderson, who has served as dean ad interim since 2022.