Norris director steps down after 17 years

The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center is currently conducting a search for a new director after Peter Jones, director of the Cancer Center for 17 years, announced that he will be stepping down from his position in order to focus on his research.

Jones, who has been at USC since 1977, will continue to conduct research in the field of epigenetics in the labs of the Cancer Center, but he will be forgoing the administrative duties of director — which include fundraising and recruiting top faculty ­— to spend more time working in what he said is an important field of study.

“The field of epigenetics has been around for 30 years, but it’s suddenly reached national and international prominence,” Jones said. “It’s very exciting. The field is really just starting to take off big time.”

Jones has been at the forefront of many developments in epigenetics, including the study of the changes and switching of genes without altering the fundamental genetic information. He said he will continue to focus on work that he hopes will lead to new and effective manners of detecting and treating cancer.

“We’re interested in whole epigenomes and understanding how all the bits and pieces that are involved in the packaging genes in the nucleus of the human cell work together, and how those processes go wrong in the formation of diseases such as cancer,” Jones said. “It opens up avenues for cancer detection, treatment and things like that.”

Throughout Jones’ tenure as director, USC Norris has developed a focus on epigenetics and has become a leader in the field.

“We have one of the most outstanding groups of people working in epigenetics here,” Jones said. “It’s something that we have a real international exposure to, and the Cancer Center has played a leading role.”

Jonathan Samet, chairman of the department of preventive medicine and the head of the search committee for the Cancer Center’s next director, praised Jones for his contributions to maintaining USC Norris as a top comprehensive cancer center.

“[Cancer centers] give you an identity, both in research and patient care, and under Dr. Jones’ leadership the Cancer Center has maintained its prominence, science has grown and there’s been a continued emphasis on bringing great scientists here,” Samet said.

Jones said much of his success is because of the excellence and assistance of the university throughout his career. Soon after his start at USC, he gained recognition for his work, receiving the Associates Award for Creativity in Research and Scholarship in 1983.

“Recognizing my research at an early stage was very helpful and supportive in the sense that they acknowledged the importance of good research,” Jones said. “They’ve really allowed me to prosper by giving me a lot of freedom to do the kind of research I wanted to do.”

Jones oversaw several developments at USC Norris during his time as director, including the expansion of the Topping Tower in 1996 and the construction of the Harlyne J. Norris Research Tower in 2007, which gave the Cancer Center a 172,000-square-foot building dedicated solely to cancer research.

Samet said that there is no definite timetable to find the new director, although he said he hopes the next director will be named within six months. He said replacing someone like Jones will require an exhaustive search, but the prestigious position should draw top candidates.

“We’re looking for a national leader, someone who can come here and continue the development of the Cancer Center,” Samet said. “We want somebody who has a proven competency, is a great leader, all those things … Our committee’s job in some ways has been made easier by Dr. Jones because we have such a great Cancer Center.”