Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research

Faculty Profile: Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, Director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD

Last October, Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, was named the permanent director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, putting him at the helm of Feinberg’s efforts to battle cancer through scientific discovery.

Dr. Platanias’s research in molecular biology and biochemistry, spanning more than 20 years and 250 published papers, focuses on signaling pathways in cancer cells and developing therapies that target those pathways to treat malignancies. He is well known for his work involving cytokines, which are specific proteins within the blood that have important links to cancer and other diseases.

Dr. Platanias joined Feinberg in 2002, as the Lurie Cancer Center’s first Deputy Director and the Jesse, Sara, Andrew, Abigail, Benjamin and Elizabeth Lurie Professor of Oncology in Medicine-Hematology/Oncology. He is also a professor in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.

Q&A

What are your research interests?

I work in the area of signal transduction in malignant cells. I am interested in the mechanisms by which different cytokine receptors generate signals to either promote or suppress malignant cell proliferation.   My laboratory also works on targeting signaling pathways to treat malignancies. Over the years we have made contributions in interferon signaling and have defined different components of mTOR and MAP kinase pathways in normal and malignant hematopoiesis.

What is the ultimate goal of your research? 

The ultimate goal of my research is to further our overall understanding of the mechanisms of tumorigenesis and to develop new targeted therapies for the treatment of selected malignancies.

What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus?

At Northwestern, we have longstanding collaborations with colleagues in the Depart- ment of Chemistry on the Evanston campus, including the group of Tom O’Halloran. We collaborate closely with the groups of Elizabeth Eklund, MD, John Crispino, PhD, and others on Feinberg’s downtown campus. Other collaborators are Eleanor Fish at the University of Toronto on the mechanisms of interferon signaling and Amit Verma at Albert Einstein University in New York on the signaling pathways in malignant hematopoiesis. 

How is your research funded?

My research is funded by four R01 grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and a Merit Review grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am also the principal investigator of a NCI T32 training grant in signal transduction and cancer and of the American Cancer Society Institutional Review Grant, which provides funding for junior investigators at Feinberg. Finally, as director of the Lurie Cancer Center, I am the principal investigator of the Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG) from the NCI.

Where have you recently published papers?

Publications from our group include articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA; Blood; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; The Journal of Biological Chemistry; Nature Reviews Immunology; Oncogene; Molecular and Cellular Biology; and others.

Which honors are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of the Milstein Award from the International Cytokine and Interferon Society. That award is bestowed upon research scientists who have made outstanding contributions to international cytokine research, either in a basic or applied field. Many awardees have made seminal advancements that have enabled the successful treatment of disease or have the potential to lead to significant health benefits. Since the Milstein Award was established in 1988, it has been widely recognized that cytokines play critical roles in the development and progression of many major diseases including cancer, viral diseases such as hepatitis and influenza, and autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis and lupus.  Other past Milstein awardees include remarkable investigators such as Tadatsugo Taniguchi, Tom Maniatis, and Jim Darnell.