W. Kimryn Rathmell, M.D., Ph.D., begins work as 17th director of the National Cancer Institute

Dec. 19, 2023
New NCI director.

W. Kimryn Rathmell, M.D., Ph.D., began work today as the 17th director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A renowned kidney cancer expert and influential leader in cancer research and patient care, Dr. Rathmell was selected by President Biden to succeed Monica M. Bertagnolli, M.D., who left NCI to become the NIH director on November 9.

Dr. Rathmell comes to NCI from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where she served as the Hugh Jackson Morgan Chair in Medicine, chair of the Department of Medicine, and physician-in-chief. Before joining Vanderbilt University, she served on the faculty of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  

Dr. Rathmell is an accomplished physician–scientist, from treating patients with kidney cancer to conducting research that has advanced how scientists understand the molecular and genetic drivers of the disease. For example, as a member of The Cancer Genome Atlas, a joint effort of NCI and NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute to catalog genetic mutations of cancers, Dr. Rathmell contributed to the discovery that a rare form of kidney cancer called chromophobe renal cell carcinoma is caused in part by mutations in mitochondrial DNA. More recently, her genomic studies have led to the identification of new molecular biomarkers to help detect and treat kidney cancers earlier.

An advocate for research into rare forms of kidney cancer, such as renal medullary carcinoma (RMC), Dr. Rathmell co-founded the nonprofit organization RMC Alliance, which supports patients with renal medullary carcinoma. This rare form of kidney cancer predominantly affects young adults and adolescents of African descent who carry one copy of the sickle cell hemoglobin gene.

In addition to publishing hundreds of scientific articles about her research studies, Dr. Rathmell has also published on ethical issues such as cancer drug shortages and conflicts of interest in scientific publishing. Beyond her research interests, she is deeply committed to mentoring and developing the next generation of physician–scientists.

Dr. Rathmell, who will lead NCI in pursuing the goals of President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, has served on NCI’s Board of Scientific Advisors since 2018. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2022 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2023. She served as president of the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2019.

Dr. Rathmell earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. She received a Ph.D. in biophysics and an M.D. from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. She completed an internal medicine internship at the University of Chicago and a residency and fellowship in medical oncology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 2022, she completed a Master of Management in Health Care from Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

With Dr. Rathmell’s arrival, Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., who has been serving as NCI’s acting director, will resume his role as principal deputy director of NCI and will continue his work as chief of the Laboratory of Cellular Oncology in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research.

NIH release