Why I Give: Learn More About TAMEST Members Drs. Helen and David Piwnica-Worms

Helen and David Piwnica-Worms

By supporting TAMEST you are supporting an organization comprised of distinguished scientists, engineers, health care professionals, and innovators dedicated to advancing human knowledge for the improvement of human health through research and innovation.

Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D. (NAM)

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

TAMEST Member David R. Piwnica-Worms, M.D., Ph.D., (NAM) first met his wife, TAMEST Board Secretary Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D. (NAM) back in high school in their home state of Minnesota. Since then, the couple has moved across the country in pursuit of academics and biomedical research. In 2013, the couple made Texas their home to continue their careers at The University of Texas at MD Anderson Cancer Center (MD Anderson).

The Piwnica-Worms’ say the decision to relocate came because of the outstanding faculty, trainees, staff and resources available at MD Anderson. Additionally, the interdisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations in the Houston-area—among MD Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine, UTHealth Science Center at Houston, Texas A&M University, Rice University and Houston Methodist—have enabled their work to take new and exciting directions that they say would not be possible in most places.

Dr. Helen Piwnica-Worms is Professor of Experimental Radiation Oncology and Dr. David R. Piwnica-Worms is Professor and Chair of the Department of Cancer Systems Imaging and is Deputy Head of the Division of Diagnostic Imaging at MD Anderson.

As members of both the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) and TAMEST, the Piwnica-Worms’ are dedicated supporters of TAMEST with their time, leadership and financial support. The two say they continue to give to TAMEST because of their belief in supporting science, bridging the gap between institutions and disciplines and encouraging convening and collaboration among their peers in Texas.

Learn more about the couple’s accomplishments and why they give to TAMEST below.

Tell us a little about yourselves and your work:

Dr. David R. Piwnica-Worms (DPW): I am a board-certified radiologist and biochemist and have been involved with biochemistry and molecular imaging research for more than 30 years. My research focuses on the development and use of non-invasive imaging technologies to advance the understanding of human health and disease. I have created several innovative strategies to visually capture and measure biological processes in living animals, model systems and humans at the molecular and cellular level using remote imaging detection methods, such as positron emission tomography (PET), fluorescence, and bioluminescence imaging.

Fun fact: Helen and I met in high school in Minnesota and have shared an incredible journey together through training, academics and biomedical research. We were honored to have both been elected to NAM and become members of TAMEST, but our greatest pride and joy are our two wonderful children, Katie and Will, both young medical doctors.

Dr. Helen Piwnica-Worms (HPW): I am a Professor of Experimental Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center. I was trained at Duke University School of Medicine (Ph.D.) and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Postdoctoral studies). I held faculty positions at Tufts Medical School, Harvard Medical School and Washington University School of Medicine prior to joining MD Anderson Cancer Center.

My early work laid the foundation for how the cell division cycle is regulated and how perturbations such as DNA damage and replication stress delay the cell cycle. Many of the cell cycle regulators we biochemically characterized are now being targeted in the form of clinical trials for cancer patients. A major focus of my lab now is in applying our fundamental knowledge of cell cycle regulation and cell signaling pathways to eradicate triple-negative breast cancer.

How did you hear about TAMEST?

HPW: I became a member of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in 2013, the same year I moved to Texas to join MD Anderson Cancer Center. I heard about TAMEST shortly after I became a NAM member as they invited me to attend the 2014 annual meeting where I became a TAMEST member.

I have had the honor of serving on the Edith & Peter O’Donnell selection committee and I currently serve as a member of the Board of Directors.

DPW: I first heard of TAMEST upon moving to MD Anderson Cancer Center. In 2014, I was elected a member of the NAM, and then invited to become a member of TAMEST.

What value do you think TAMEST brings to Texas?

DPW: TAMEST supports science education, communication, strategic thinking and recruitment through meetings and forums. TAMEST provides a platform for leaders to cross-fertilize scientific opportunities and address challenges in Texas.

HPW: As an organization, TAMEST brings together experts in the fields of medicine, science, engineering and technology across the state to share ideas. It recognizes creative young talent in the state through the Edith & Peter O’Donnell awards and the protégé program.

These activities bring national recognition to the state which enhances our recruitment efforts, brings in more revenue and increases employment opportunities. In addition, the educational activities sponsored by TAMEST (as an example: the TAMEST conversations on COVID-19) provide the citizens and leaders of Texas with the necessary information for making evidence-based decisions.

Why did you first participate in the TAMEST Annual Fund Campaign?

HPW: I benefit from being a TAMEST member. TAMEST’s transdisciplinary nature — both in terms of its member base and the topics covered in its annual meetings — is unlike any other I have experienced.

By attending these meetings, I have broadened my knowledge base in many areas outside of my own research domain. In addition, I share TAMEST’s commitment to advancing research and supporting the next generation of creative young researchers in Texas.

DPW: We wanted to support TAMEST’s mission to promote science and educate the citizens of Texas on the value of science broadly, especially in our responses to a dynamic changing world. I have specific concerns about the future of the science workforce, and how we keep Texas competitive in meeting our regional and national challenges.

What would you tell someone that is thinking about giving?

DPW: Few other states stand at the interface of world energy, biomedicine, data science, and space exploration like Texas. Every bit helps enhance science and technology missions for our region.

HPW: By supporting TAMEST you are supporting an organization comprised of distinguished scientists, engineers, health care professionals, and innovators dedicated to advancing human knowledge for the improvement of human health through research and innovation. What better way to spend your money!

To make your donation to this year’s TAMEST Annual Fund, click here.


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