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Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Alumni Association

Ronny I. Drapkin, M.D., Ph.D.
2008

Ronny Drapkin is a graduate of the MD/PhD dual degree program with the UMDNJ-Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, earning his PhD in 1996 and his MD in 1998.  His interest in biomedical research was sparked during his undergraduate years at Brandeis University where he did his senior honors thesis in the laboratory of Dr. James Haber, a leader in the field of DNA recombination and repair.  That initial research experience motivated Ronny to pursue the dual degree program at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, rather than the pure medical degree he was initially intending.   While performing his doctoral work, Dr. Drapkin and his mentor, Danny F. Reinberg, PhD, a Distinguished University Professor of Biochemistry and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, published their discovery in Nature that TFIIH is a transcription factor with dual roles in gene expression and DNA repair. This discovery revealed how mutations in this factor result in the cancer predisposition syndrome xeroderma pigmentosum and forged an important link to cancer-prone human diseases.  The impact of the work was reflected in its inclusion as ‘molecular of the year’ in 1994 in Science magazine.  After receiving his dual degrees at GSBS and RWJMS, Ronny did his residency in Pathology at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston.  His graduate medical education helped direct his interest in DNA repair processes and cancer into the women’s cancers program with a specific interest in ovarian cancer.  Upon completing his residency, he pursued this interest in the laboratory of Dr. David Livingston at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where he studied the function of the breast-and-ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1 and collaborated in the discovery of a key BRCA1-interacting protein called BRIP1, a DNA helicase that is also the target of cancer predisposing mutations.  These initial findings were reported in Cell and PNAS and served as the platform for the more recent discovery that BRIP1 is actually one of the susceptibility genes for Fanconi Anemia, an inherited disease that results in skeletal deformity, bone marrow failure, and an increase incidence of solid tumors. 

Since accepting a faculty position at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2005, Dr. Drapkin’s research efforts remain focused on ovarian cancer with the goal of better understanding the genetics and pathogenesis of the disease, and developing biomarker tools for its early detection.  His most recent startling finding is that serous ovarian cancers, the most lethal type of ovarian cancer and the one associated with familial predisposition syndromes, doesn’t actually originate in the ovary at all; but rather originates in the fallopian tube fimbria. 

Dr. Drapkin currently serves as Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, Associate Pathologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Principle Investigator at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  He is the recipient of the 2005 Dunkin Donuts Rising Stars Research Award, the 2006 Research Prize from the Lynne Cohen Foundation for Ovarian Cancer Research, and one of his postdocs was recently awarded the 2008 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Fellowship Award in Cancer Genetics.