Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D.

An executive officer of a California Research Institute

Appointed by the Lt. Governor

Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., is President of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, Professor and Pauline & Stanley Foster Presidential Chair, and Director of the National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center at Sanford-Burnham.

As President of Sanford-Burnham, Dr. Vuori is responsible for Institute’s scientific and nonscientific operations at all sites, which include locations in San Diego and Santa Barbara in California, and in Orlando in Florida. Sanford-Burnham is one of the fastest-growing research institutes in the country, with major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is especially known for its worldclass capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies. Sanford-Burnham ranks among the top independent research institutions nationally for NIH grant funding and among the top organizations worldwide for its research impact.

In her role as Cancer Center Director, Dr. Vuori is responsible for one of only seven centers designated as basic cancer research centers by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The Cancer Center at Sanford-Burnham was established in 1976, and recently underwent a successful 5-year renewal with an “Outstanding” rating and a significant increase in its Core Grant funding. Under Dr. Vuori’s direction, the Sanford-Burnham Cancer Center is an interdisciplinary basic and
translational research effort mobilizing over 400 individuals working in a highly collaborative and interactive program structure, each of which addresses a particular aspect of cancer. At present, one approved drug and at least five experimental therapies for cancer that are in final Phase III clinical trials can be traced to the work of Sanford-Burnham scientists.

Dr. Vuori earned her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at University of Oulu, Finland. After completion of internship and residency, she received postdoctoral training at Sanford-Burnham in 1992-1995 with then-President & CEO Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti. Dr. Vuori was appointed to faculty in 1996. She was appointed Deputy Director of the Sanford-Burnham's NCI-designated Cancer Center in 2003, and Director of the Cancer Center in 2006. In 2008, she was appointed Executive Vice President for Scientific Affairs. She has been President of the Institute since April 2010. Dr. Vuori is also co-Director of the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics at Sanford-Burnham, which is one of four national Comprehensive Centers of Excellence established by National Institutes of Health (NIH) to accelerate chemical biology and drug discovery, and a Comprehensive Center within NCI’s Chemical Biology Consortium. Dr. Vuori has been instrumental in leading the establishment of Sanford-Burnham's scientific technology platforms, including laying the foundation for Sanford-Burnham's capabilities for robust discovery and development of new diagnostics and therapeutics.

Throughout her career, Dr. Vuori has received numerous research grants and awards from NIH, NCI, Department of Defense (DoD), and the California Cancer Research Programs. Dr. Vuori was selected as a PEW Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences in 1997 (dubbed as “20 most promising scientists in America”). Additionally, Dr. Vuori serves in a wide variety of advisory capacities to NCI and other cancer organizations, including advisory roles for the NCI's Developmental Therapeutics Program and Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives. She has served on several NIH and DoD study sections, and is past chair of the DoD Breast Cancer Research Program’s prestigious “Innovator Award” panel. She also serves on numerous editorial boards for scientific journals, institutional scientific advisory boards, and as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies. Additionally, she is co-founder of three biotechnology companies. Orally bioavailable drugs to combat chemotherapy-induced anemia that have been developed based on Dr. Vuori’s discoveries are currently undergoing phase II clinical testing.


Dr. Vuori's main research focus is aimed at unraveling the molecular mechanisms of the most lifethreatening aspect of cancer, which is cancer metastasis. Metastasis is responsible for nearly all deaths in cancer patients, and understanding of the mechanisms that turn a cancer from a locally growing tumor into highly metastatic cancer cells will provide clues how to prevent this step in cancer progression. Cells in our body reside in a protein network, the extracellular matrix (ECM), which they secrete and mold into their intercellular microenvironment. Cell adhesion to this microenvironment is essential for cell survival; if cells become detached, they will die through a process known as apoptosis. Thus, normal cells cannot detach from their tissue and establish themselves somewhere else, because they will die on the way. Yet cancer cells somehow get around this requirement; they trespass aggressively into other tissues and metastasize to distant sites in the body without dying. Dr. Vuori’s work is aimed at identifying the molecular mechanisms that in normal cells makes them adhesion-dependent; false action of the very same mechanisms is likely to be the key step in allowing cancer cells to metastasize.

Alternate Member

Carl Ware, Ph.D.
Director, Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, Professor & Director Infectious and Inflammatory Disease Center

Dr. Carl F. Ware received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the University of California, Irvine in 1979.  Professor Ware is a leading expert in cytokines and their biology and clinical utiltiy, having discovered several cytokines.  From 1979-81, while supported by a prestigious National Research Service Award from the NIH, Dr. Ware conducted research at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio in membrane biochemistry and the complement system with Dr. W. Kolb. In 1981, Dr. Ware joined the research groups of Dr. Jack Strominger and Dr. Tim Springer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, where he devleoped monoclonal antibodies to discover several membrane proteins (now known as integrins) associated with T cell function.  Dr. Ware established his research laboratory in 1982, in the Biomedical Sciences Program at the University of California, Riverside, before joining the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in 1996 as Head of the Division of Molecular Immunology.  Dr. Ware also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Biology at the University of California, San Diego. In 2010, Dr. Ware was recruited to Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute as Director of the Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases Center, where he continues his research in molecular immunology and virology, and translating his discoveries into new therapies for cancer, infectious and autoimmune diseases.  Two of Dr. Ware’s discoveries in the TNF superfamily, LTβ and LIGHT, are now in clinical development. He is recipient of a National Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health and serves on the scientific advisory boards for the Arthritis National Research Foundation and the American Asthma Foundation, and is past President of the International Cytokine Society and advisor for the TNF SuperFamily conferences.