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Dan Theodorescu's name already is on a hospital. Actually, it's in honor of his grandfather, whose name graces a teaching hospital in Romania. That's the younger Dan Theodorescu's native country; he moved with his family to Canada at age 6. Like his grandfather, he pursued a medical education. He trained as a urologic oncologist at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and earned his doctorate in molecular and cell biology from the University of Toronto.

His name may not be on a building at the University of Virginia, but Theodorescu made his mark there as director of the Mellon Urologic Cancer Institute. That's the post he left to become the new director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and coordinator of its $139 million research funding portfolio. He also holds the Paul Bunn Chair in Cancer Research, named for the lung cancer pioneer who in 1988 established UCCC, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the region.

One day, Theodorescu would like to return to Romania with his family to visit his grandfather's namesake hospital. These days, though, having just completed his first month on the job, his first priority is making a bigger name for the medical institution he now leads.

— Jay Dedrick

1. What about living in Colorado are you most looking forward to?

I've always loved Colorado. I've been here many times to go to scientific meetings. I love the mountains. My wife, Diane, grew up in Vancouver, so she loves the mountains. I love the weather. I'm a skier – grew up skiing in Quebec City. I can't wait to go biking on the trails here with my kids (Tom, 15, and Claire, 13). The city has got all the perks of a big city with none of the major disadvantages. We have a world-class airport. I have a 17-minute commute, shorter than I had in Charlottesville. So what is there not to like? I just love it here.

You only live one life. If I were working in New York or something, would my life make a bigger difference there than if I were here? Because of the ideas, who the people are, and because there's only one medical school and one cancer center, you can actually bring people together much more easily here than you could, say, in a place like New York. That's a fantastic opportunity.

2. New York is where you trained as a urology surgeon and cancer researcher. What led you to specialize in bladder cancer?

One thing that always appealed to me ever since I was a graduate student was the fact that bladder cancer was a significant public health problem. It's one of the most expensive cancers to treat. It also exhibited many of the features I was interested in studying, such as a very ordered tumor progression. My interest is really to understand how a cancer cell moves from one not-so-bad state to a very bad state, the process called tumor progression and metastasis, when it spreads to other organs. I really was interested in this particular cancer because it was one in which those processes could be studied very well and clearly.

The advantage from a scientific point of view was that bladder cancer was easily accessible, because we could examine it, look at it with instruments in the bladder, and sample it from urine samples. So it had a lot of the features that would be ideal for scientific investigation of a cancer.

3. Before you were approached about accepting this post, how much did you know about the University of Colorado Cancer Center?

One of the things we all knew in the oncologic community is that it has the reputation internationally of being an outstanding cancer center, built through hard work and vision, and one that is unique in the Rocky Mountain area.

I don't know of any other medical school that did this gigantic move from one place to another. That move, led by Dean Richard Krugman, is well-known nationally, too. So that and Paul Bunn's accomplishments in building the cancer center are really the two things I knew about. And frankly the two things that really attracted me to this place.

Even from the first point when they called me to look at the job, I had many reasons to want to come here. The campus was brand new and on a steep vector up in terms of building and development, and could be one of the leading national biomedical centers. But also I knew about the scientific excellence here and also that of our partners. All those basically came together to make a very compelling reason to want to be here.

4. You mentioned partnerships, which you have stressed in your communications so far. How significant are these collaborations?

One of the appeals of this position is the fact that you can interact with fantastic institutions. Clearly, The Children's Hospital, National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado Hospital are core teaching hospitals. But on the scientific front, we are very, very fortunate to be able to interact with world-class scientists at Boulder, specifically Tom Cech and his Colorado Initiative for Molecular Biotechnology. Also, we're fortunate to have one of the nation's premier veterinary schools, which has its own Animal Cancer Center, at Colorado State University, led by Rod Page and Steve Withrow. It is a tremendous resource for doing scientific investigation, but also for doing clinical trials in pet animals, specifically dogs, which could give us profound insights into how clinical trials should be done in patients.

We'll be starting a blog on our website, because we need to communicate clearly and widely where we're going and why. The format offers us the opportunity to integrate a number of our collaborators and partners in this effort. We're going to have participation in the blog by the CEOs of the various hospitals that we're affiliated with and collaborate with.

5. In your first Director's Message, you wrote about a different philosophy and way of doing business. What's the biggest change you want to make?

To be inclusive, responsive and transparent in decision-making. We want to bring together the best and the brightest and have their voices heard as we develop the strategic plan for the cancer center. We like to get feedback, given the talent we have around us. I'm working with Bruce Schroffel (president and CEO of University of Colorado Hospital), and we're looking at how things are done in terms of fundraising, websites and more. We like to be perceived as representing the cancer research and practice voice of the entire state of Colorado.

I don't have the hubris to think that everything I come up with is fantastic and brilliant. It's a trial and error to a certain degree – life is. We want to make things better, want to get people treated better, want to have better outcomes over the years and we want our science to drive a lot of these things.

We have some very exciting initiatives that I'm not prepared to talk about now, but things that could be paradigm-shifting in terms of how we do business in academic medical centers. If that works, it could have profound ramifications, even beyond cancer. It has to do with a new way of doing clinical trials. If we pull it off, the whole nation is going to say, "Wow. This is something we can do."

We have three fabulous teaching hospitals here, and I'm engaging all three of them. All are led by very dynamic, very forward-thinking CEOs. So my job with these larger initiatives is to get them excited and looking at the vision I'm proposing, to see if we can do some real cool things. And I think we can. We'll see how good a salesman I am.

Want to suggest a faculty or staff member for Five Questions? Please e-mail Jay.Dedrick@cu.edu

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