Kevin L. Gardner, MD, PhD, has been named senior vice chair of the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology and professor of pathology and cell biology at CUMC.
“Dr. Gardner’s mission at Columbia University is to expand his groundbreaking research on breast cancer pathogenesis and to help lead our precision medicine initiatives, particularly in underrepresented minority communities,” said Kevin A. Roth, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology.
Most recently, Dr. Gardner served for three years as the acting scientific director at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Division of Intramural Research, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, where he helped to establish many programs that promoted diversity in the biomedical workforce, including among trainees and earlier career scientists. An accomplished physician-scientist, Gardner was one of only two African-Americans on the tenure track at the NIH in 2007.
Gardner served as a senior investigator in the genetics branch of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)/NIH. During his distinguished career at the NIH, Gardner twice won the NIH Director’s Award, once in recognition for his work published in Nature Structural Molecular Biology in 2010, which helped to explain why overweight women are more likely to develop breast cancer than lean ones. He discovered that caloric intake affects the activity of BRCA1 via C-terminal binding protein (CtBP). His research findings received extensive recognition and suggested a molecular mechanism for obesity-linked cancer initiation and progression.
As an internationally recognized expert, Gardner has had a long-term interest in the cellular and molecular biology of gene regulation and, while at NIH, developed strategies to define pathways and mechanisms of transcriptional control in cancers of lymphoid and epithelial origin.
Specifically, his laboratory studied chromatin-based mechanisms of transcriptional control and how they govern gene expression programs in response to extrinsic and intrinsic environmental clues during health and disease. To accomplish this, his lab focused on the mechanisms of gene regulatory control by transcriptional co-regulators.
A major research focus in the lab was the role of epigenetic modifications in the control of gene expression and cellular phenotypic change. His group studied several different cellular systems that are relevant to lymphoid and epithelial malignancies. The most recent concentration had been on gene regulatory processes important in the evolution of leukemia and the mechanisms of breast cancer tumor initiation and progression. Using these approaches, in combination with his perspective as a pathologist, he developed a research program that incorporated molecular, biochemical, and cell biological methodology with genome-wide bioinformatics and computational technology to assemble a research portfolio that leveraged multi-disciplinary translational applications, to define molecular linkages between race, lifestyle, the environment, and disease.
Gardner received his bachelors of science in molecular biology and biophysics from Yale University, from which he graduated cum laude. He earned his MD and a PhD at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he studied the regulation of membrane skeletal proteins in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy. He completed his residency training at the NCI and is board-certified in anatomic pathology. He subsequently spent the bulk of his career at the NCI.
In addition to his award-winning scientific research, Gardner is dedicated to promoting faculty diversity and mentorship. He has served as an adjunct professor of medicine at Howard University College of Medicine since 1999. He received the Philip J. Browning Scientific Pioneer Award from the NIH Black Scientist Association, was a member of the trans-NIH Strategic Planning Committee in Health Disparities, and an invited speaker at the AAMC Minority Career Development Seminar in 2013. He has mentored more than 40 pre- and postdoctoral fellows of various backgrounds, many who have received awards for research excellence and competitive fellowships.
Gardner was recruited by Columbia’s Department of Pathology and Cell Biology to take on the major responsibilities for oncology-related research, mentorship of basic research and clinical faculty, leading the departmental efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion, and to further enhance his personal research program on epigenetics, chromatin biology, and cancer.
Gardner said his decision to accept the role of senior vice chair here is a “clear indication of Columbia’s commitment to delivering precision medical care to underrepresented groups throughout the city and region.” His recruitment will have a significant impact in not only the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, but also the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and the cross-campus Precision Medicine Initiative. Gardner is an outstanding pathologist and experienced scientific investigator and administrative leader who will work closely with Pathology chair Dr. Roth, to meet the department’s scientific, teaching, and clinical goals.