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David Cortez named chair of biochemistry

By: Wendy Bindeman

David Cortez, Richard N. Armstrong, Ph.D. Chair for Innovation in Biochemistry and professor of biochemistry, has been appointed chair of the Department of Biochemistry beginning July 1, 2021.

Cortez first joined the Department of Biochemistry in 2002 as an assistant professor, and became a professor of biochemistry and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research in 2009. He served as the Director of Graduate Studies for the department from 2006 to 2014, and is currently a co-leader of the Genome Maintenance Program and Assistant Director of Basic Sciences at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. In 2020, he was named Richard N. Armstrong, Ph.D. Chair for Innovation in Biochemistry.

Cortez was named by Larry Marnett, dean of basic sciences, as interim chair of the Department of Biochemistry in January 2021 following the departure of the previous chair, John York, for a position as chief scientific officer of Impossible Foods. Thanks to Cortez’s outstanding record as a faculty member and as interim chair, an ad hoc faculty committee recommended him for appointment as the permanent chair of the department.

“We are very fortunate to have such a talented colleague willing to lead the Department of Biochemistry,” Marnett said. “Dave Cortez is an exceptional scientist with an international reputation for his work on the DNA damage response. He has been very active in leadership roles at the departmental, school and university levels and has a well-deserved reputation for graduate and postdoctoral training. The ad hoc faculty committee unanimously recommended him for the chair position, and I absolutely concur. Dave will take biochemistry to new heights.”

Cortez completed undergraduate degrees with highest honors in biochemistry and biology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by a Ph.D. at Duke University and a postdoc at Baylor College of Medicine. At Vanderbilt, he maintains a highly active research program focusing on understanding how cells maintain genomic integrity. Current projects seek to identify and characterize new proteins involved in the DNA damage response and develop novel cancer therapeutics targeting those pathways. Cortez is affiliated with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology. He was recognized with the Stanley Cohen Award for Outstanding Contributions to Research in 2020.

The Vanderbilt University Department of Biochemistry is nationally and internationally known for excellence and for many years has been ranked the #1 NIH-funded biochemistry department in the nation.

“Biochemistry is an outstanding department within a great university and is connected to a first-class medical center,” Cortez said. “As its new leader, I will work with my colleagues to make it exceptional with an international recognition of its discoveries, training, and service. We will build an inclusive community of scholars in which everyone can be the best scientist, educator, and student that they can be.”