M.D. Anderson's President Resigns, Goes Back to Research

The president of MD Anderson Cancer Center is leaving his executive office to go back into research. Doctor John Mendelsohn will step down once a new president is in place. He made the announcement to staff and faculty at MD Anderson today. Laurie Johnson reports.

The organization ranked as America's #1 hospital for cancer care has held that distinction under the leadership of Dr. John Mendelsohn. He's been at the helm of M.D. Anderson for nearly 15 years, leading the organization to double the size of its patient treatment  and faculty and quadruple its research budget.

Mendelsohn says the organization was in a difficult period when he took on the presidency and he's proud of what they've accomplished.

"We decided — I remember we wrote a vision statement about a year after I came. 'We shall be the premier cancer center in the world, based on the excellence of our people, our research-driven patient care and our science.' And we all rolled up our sleeves and worked toward that vision and we succeeded."

Mendelsohn will remain on faculty with M.D. Anderson as co-director of the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy. He says it's amazing to see how far such research has come in his lifetime. When he was born, researchers had not yet confirmed DNA as the genetic material, which happened in 1943. In 1948 Mendelsohn was completing his sophomore year at Harvard College.

"I got into the laboratory, very fortunately, of Dr. James Watson who was the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. Back then if you had said to me from what we know now — all we knew was that DNA was the genetic material and we knew its structure — that we would be able to understand what a genetic code is and what genes do and how we could use that to change the course of disease for a cancer patient, I would have said well that is really, really exciting but it's going to be hard to do."

Mendelsohn will remain in charge of the organization until a new president is recruited and in place, likely some time next summer.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...