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Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center

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Meyer Cancer Center welcomes renowned radiation oncologist Silvia Formenti

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Dr. Silvia C. Formenti, an international expert in the use of radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer, has been appointed chair of the newly established Department of Radiation Oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College and radiation oncologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, effective April 15. Dr. Formenti, currently the chair of radiation oncology at New York University Langone Medical Center, has also been named the Associate Director of Radiation Oncology at the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center.

Photo of Dr. Silvia C. FormentiDr. Silvia C. Formenti A recognized leader in radiation oncology and breast cancer research, Dr. Formenti’s groundbreaking work has transformed the paradigm in radiation biology, demonstrating the efficacy of combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy to control cancer cell growth in solid tumors. By recruiting patients’ immune systems to reject their individual tumor, the approach results in personalized immunotherapy, specific for each individual patient. She has translated preclinical work into clinical trials in metastatic breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma, and has opened a new field of application for radiotherapy, whereby localized radiation can be used as an adjuvant to immunotherapy of solid tumors and lymphomas.

In her new roles at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, Dr. Formenti will expand and enhance the existing radiation oncology program, building upon its already distinguished reputation of excellence in translational research to better investigate, target and treat individual patients' unique cancers. Faculty in the department will investigate precision medicine approaches to radiation oncology, focusing on combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy and other modifiers of the tumor microenvironment to design advanced treatments and therapies that are tailored to each patient’s individual tumor.

Dr. Formenti is currently the associate director of the NYU Cancer Institute and co-leader of its Breast Cancer Research Program, as well as the Sandra and Edward H. Meyer Professor of Radiation Oncology at NYU Langone.

"One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of our generation is the revelation that not all cancers are the same — and as such, neither should their treatments be the same," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "Dr. Formenti is on the forefront of this personalized approach to cancer, devoting her career to investigating immune responses to radiotherapy and designing therapies that are tailored to each patient's specific tumor. Her distinguished work in radiation oncology has left a lasting mark on cancer care, and I can think of no one better to lead Weill Cornell's efforts to develop the most effective, next-generation cancer treatments that improve the lives of patients in New York and beyond."

"Dr. Formenti is a tireless crusader for innovation in the field of radiation oncology, and we are delighted that she will be spearheading these efforts for us," said Dr. Steven J. Corwin, CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. "Cancer is currently the second-leading cause of death in the United States, and Dr. Formenti’s leadership, expertise and commitment to the combined use of tumor radiation and immunotherapy tailored to patient-specific genetics will not only transform cancer care and treatment at NewYork-Presbyterian, but will help us move closer to a cure."

"Combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy is exquisitely interdisciplinary work, leveraging the most modern integration of pathology, imaging, surgery, medical oncology and radiation oncology," Dr. Formenti said. "The culture and collegiality at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center provides the best setting to enable these cutting-edge research approaches."

The new Department of Radiation Oncology will empower scientists to conduct high-impact basic, clinical and translational research to enhance the already outstanding patient experience at Weill Cornell Medical College and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. In particular, investigators will engage in radiobiological research, exploring the effects of ionizing radiation on tumor and normal tissue with findings translated into preclinical models that can lead to improved, personalized patient care. The department will also provide opportunities to train the next generation of radiation oncologists.

"Leading this new effort is an amazing opportunity," Dr. Formenti said. "Both Weill Cornell and NewYork-Presbyterian are wonderful institutions with top-notch leadership, and I'm thrilled to be able to dedicate myself and my research to this effort."

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research program and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Dr. Formenti's research focuses on personalized oncology — designing more effective, targeted treatments tailored to individual patients by combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy. Her laboratory discovered that this combination therapy overrides cancer's ability to hijack the normal immune response that rejects tumor cells, creating a vaccine against the disease that is specific to each individual patient's tumor. When applied to an experimental model of metastatic breast cancer, she found that this therapy was not only effective against primary tumors, but it also prevented the disease from spreading to the lungs by leveraging acquired immune memory. Dr. Formenti is investigating how this breakthrough, by tailoring the therapy to the specific molecular characteristics of individual tumors, can be rapidly adopted to treat patients suffering from various forms of metastatic cancer. Dr. Formenti's other research interest focuses on reducing the risk of heart disease for women with breast cancer who are treated with radiation, and she has pioneered a protective technique to help achieve that goal.

Dr. Formenti received her medical degree in Italy from the University of Milan, where she attained board certification in medical oncology, radiology and radiation oncology. She was awarded a competitive grant from the Italian National Research Council (Comitato Nazionale Ricerca or CNR) to work in human monoclonal antibodies against colorectal cancer at the University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. A recipient of an Audrey Meyer Mars career development award from the American Cancer Society, she performed AIDS and lymphoma research, and then completed her residency and attained board certification in radiation oncology. She joined New York University Medical Center as chair of the department of radiation oncology in 1999. She has published more than 170 scholarly papers in high-impact journals such as JAMA and the Journal of Clinical Oncology.