First female CoEE endowed chair named to lead gastrointestinal cancer program at MUSC/Hollings Cancer Center

July 14, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – July 14, 2008 – Dr. Melanie Thomas, a leading expert in gastrointestinal cancers, is the 20th researcher recruited to South Carolina through the state’s Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEE) Program. The CoEE Program was established in 2002 to help create well-paying jobs and enhanced economic opportunities for South Carolinians through the creation of research centers at the state’s three research universities (Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina).

Thomas is also the first woman appointed as a CoEE endowed chair. CoEE endowed chairs are internationally renowned scientists who direct the research conducted at the centers.

She will lead the CoEE in Gastrointestinal Cancer Diagnostics at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)/Hollings Cancer Center (HCC). Gastrointestinal (GI) malignancies, or cancers, include those of the stomach, liver, pancreas, colon and elsewhere in the GI tract. Research within this CoEE will include searching for new targets (proteins that play a role in the disease process and are the intended sites of drug activity) for GI cancer treatment and identifying new ways to screen for GI cancer. This CoEE was initially proposed by Hollings Cancer Center and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System under the leadership of Carolyn Reed, MD, HCC Associate Director for Medical Affairs. 

South Carolina has the nation’s 14th-highest death rate from esophageal cancer; 24th-highest for liver cancer; and 25th-highest for colorectal cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Thomas will develop a clinical trials program for liver cancer and will work with others to develop a robust research portfolio and clinical trials in other GI cancers within the CoEE. Currently, she is the principal investigator for 17 clinical trials, several of which are international.

In addition to her position as a CoEE endowed chair, Thomas will also serve as associate director of clinical investigations for HCC. In this role, she will expand HCC’s clinical trials portfolio across all tumor types and ensure that more cancer patients have access to high-quality clinical trials.

“Dr. Thomas is an active and accomplished teacher and mentor, a highly committed and talented physician, and a scholar who is interested in translating basic molecular discoveries into clinical therapies,” commented MUSC Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. John Raymond.

Thomas will hold the Grace E. DeWolff Endowed Chair in Medical Oncology at MUSC. She will be an associate professor of medicine in MUSC’s Division of Hematology and Oncology. Her appointment will become official following the approval of the MUSC Board of Trustees. She is scheduled to begin on August 1, 2008.

“There is tremendous energy focused on leveraging the talent and expertise available at MUSC and Hollings Cancer Center to become known as a strong regional and national center for cancer care and clinical cancer research,” Thomas commented. “The talent, energy and dedication available at MUSC and Hollings Cancer Center are a big draw for me.” 

Thomas was recruited from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, where she worked in the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology.


Thomas received her medical degree from Boston University and completed her residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, also in Boston. In addition, she completed an oncology fellowship at M.D. Anderson Medical Center in Houston. She received a master’s degree in engineering from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Boston College.


“We are very excited that Dr. Thomas has decided to become a part of the CoEE Program and our strong and growing research community in South Carolina,” said CoEE Review Board Chair Paula Harper Bethea. “The CoEE Program is already impacting South Carolina’s economy and enhancing quality of life. Dr. Thomas’ work can have a positive impact on the health of our citizens and help South Carolina become a national leader in cancer research and clinical trials.”