Clinical geneticist Tuya Pal, M.D., has joined Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) as associate director of Cancer Health Disparities. Pal also has been named an associate professor of Medicine and Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research.
As one of the faculty in the Vanderbilt Hereditary Cancer Clinic, Pal will focus on clinical and research efforts to ensure that all patients have access to the latest tests and treatments for cancer and genetic tests for cancer risk.
“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Pal, who brings tremendous expertise to our VICC team,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Research at VUMC and director of VICC. “We conducted a national search for this post and selected Tuya because of her extensive experience in clinical genetics as well as her research program in cancer disparities.”
Pal said she is excited about joining VICC and the Hereditary Cancer Clinic team.
“I see a great deal of synergy with existing efforts and infrastructure at Vanderbilt with many areas in which I would like to continue to grow,” Pal explained.
Prior to joining Vanderbilt, Pal was an associate member at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, and associate professor of Medicine at the University of South Florida.
She received a National Institutes of Health Merit Award in 2010 for service on the National Cancer Institute PDQ Cancer Genetics Board, and was named Research Mentor of the Year at Moffitt in 2014. She is widely published and has received multiple research grants from the National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, as well as private foundations.
While at Moffitt, Pal secured external peer-reviewed funding in 2010 to launch a registry for individuals with inherited cancer risk called ICARE, which will continue operations at VICC.
ICARE (www.inheritedcancer.net), which already has more than 2,000 enrollees including more than 1,000 individuals with BRCA mutations, is a questionnaire-based research registry built through an academic-community partnership among health care providers, researchers and those at increased risk for inherited cancer.
Partnering with health care providers across the United States, this effort provides access to free educational resources, while also providing high- risk patients with a research link through referral to ICARE. Patients and providers remain engaged in ICARE through ongoing clinical and research updates, web-based seminars, electronic communications and biannual newsletters, which will continue at Vanderbilt.
Born and raised in Canada, Pal received her medical degree from McGill University in Montreal, completed a residency in pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis and a fellowship in clinical genetics at the Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto, Canada. During her fellowship, she focused on clinical cancer genetics, which will continue to be the focus of her clinical practice at Vanderbilt.
“I always loved genetics and even as far back as high school that’s what I wanted to do. I just found it fascinating how traits get inherited across generations,” Pal said.
In her new role at Vanderbilt, Pal’s goals include enhancing the availability and reach of new genetic and genomic technologies across all populations, including efforts focused on racial and ethnic minorities and underserved populations.
“If we think about genetic testing, even for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which were discovered more than two decades ago, we know that most testing has occurred in highly educated and primarily non-Hispanic white populations. Even our own research across a diverse group of young breast cancer survivors has shown that blacks and Hispanics have much lower rates of receiving testing. Factors that likely contribute to these findings include lower awareness about genetic testing among racial and ethnic minorities, coupled with less access to the tests,” Pal said.
“Individuals can only benefit from genetic testing if they use this information to be proactive about their health, and our research suggests that there are substantial differences in followup care across populations.”
Pal said this is an exciting time in the field because advances in genomics “have great potential to prevent disease and positively impact health. However, existing disparities in gene-based care among minority and underserved populations will continue to widen if we don’t address these head on so all segments of the population may benefit from them.”