portrait of Dr. Michael Dake

UArizona Cancer Center leadership announcement

Sept. 26, 2023

I am writing to announce that the University of Arizona Cancer Center will undergo a leadership change in the coming weeks. Joann Sweasy, PhD, Nancy C. and Craig M. Berge endowed chair for the director of the Cancer Center, has been named director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center and the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

Dr. Sweasy joined the UArizona Cancer Center in 2019 and has been its leader since 2020.

During her tenure, Dr. Sweasy led the successful renewal of the center’s status as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and the corresponding five-year Cancer Center Support Grant. The UArizona Cancer Center is one of 53 Comprehensive Cancer Centers designated by the NCI and the only one in Arizona.

Under Dr. Sweasy’s leadership, the Cancer Center continued to lead in serving patients and ongoing research despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, the Cancer Center announced an $8.5 million gift to establish the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute. The generous gift allowed the center to begin to transform breast cancer research and clinical care. In 2022, Dr. Sweasy welcomed First lady Jill Biden, EdD, to Tucson to highlight the work being done in the NCI’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, including the Cancer Center’s efforts to increase colorectal cancer screening in Arizona’s American Indian communities. In addition, Dr. Sweasy was recently elected to serve as vice president/president-elect of the Association of American Cancer Institutes’ board of directors.

In a sign of the importance of her research, Dr. Sweasy’s laboratory has been consistently funded by the NCI to study the molecular basis of mutagenesis and dysfunctional DNA repair as they relate to human diseases, including cancer and autoimmune conditions.

A national search for a new director is underway, during which the Cancer Center will be led by an executive council of three well-respected research leaders.

Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD, will serve as interim director. She is a Regents Professor of medicine and chief of the College of Medicine – Tucson's Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Rachna T. Shroff, MD, will be the interim clinical affairs director. She is a professor of medicine, associate dean of clinical and translational research, and chief of the College of Medicine – Tucson's Division of Hematology and Oncology. Clara N. Curiel, MD, will be the interim director of research. She is the co-director of the UArizona Skin Cancer Institute, a professor of medicine and chief of the College of Medicine – Tucson's Division of Dermatology.

I know these forward-thinking visionaries will provide the collective leadership that will allow the center to continue its important collaborative work to make Arizonans healthier.

Please join me in thanking Dr. Sweasy for her leadership and accomplishments as director of the UArizona Cancer Center and wishing her luck in her next endeavor.

Michael D. Dake, MD
Senior Vice President for University of Arizona Health Sciences