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Ruckdeschel takes lead role in UMMC’s cancer fight

Published on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

By: Cynthia Wall at 601-815-3468 or cwall@umc.edu.

Published in News Stories on January 17, 2017

Dr. John C. Ruckdeschel has joined the University of Mississippi Medical Center as Cancer Institute director and Ergon Chair in Cancer Research.

Ruckdeschel brings a wealth of experience to the job, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine, said in making the announcement.

Ruckdeschel will work with Cancer Institute members from UMMC and the University of Mississippi, with practicing physicians and with Mississippians to lower cancer deaths in this state. The Cancer Institute has a tri-fold mission of treatment, research and education.

“UMMC brings a long tradition of academic excellence in oncology to the state of Mississippi, and I would like to help take that to the next level,” Ruckdeschel said.

“Dr. Ruckdeschel has a rich and broad background in developing a focus on cancer, and a national reputation as an established leader in this area,” Woodward said. “I look forward to his leadership of our Cancer Institute.”


Ruckdeschel succeeds Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, who served three years as Cancer Institute director.  Vijayakumar will continue as professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology.

“The Cancer Institute needs a full-time director,” Vijayakumar said. “I'm looking forward to working with him.”

Ruckdeschel, who previously served as the director of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, led that institution to National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center designation and to become the third-largest clinical cancer program in the United States.

He then moved to the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, where he re-acquired its NCI comprehensive status and completed the process of making Karmanos a free-standing cancer hospital. In both settings he built strong clinical networks by working with community physicians and patients, developing effective inter-disciplinary clinical teams and creating strong programs across clinical, basic, translational and population research.

In Mississippi, he said, he's found a place with a solid foundation but one that needs coordination to finish the structure. “All the pieces of the orchestra are here,” he said. “It needs a conductor.”

The plans fit with UMMC's goals of offering cutting-edge therapies for Mississippians and working with medical providers statewide to meet health-care needs.

Together, he said, UMMC, the community and state can lessen cancer deaths in the state.

“The pieces are in place to make something really special in Mississippi,” he said. “I'd like to get us off some of those lists we shouldn't be on, like cancer mortality, smoking and screening.”

As a clinician, Ruckdeschel's career has focused on lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies. He's credited with more than 150 peer reviewed manuscripts and co-editorship of the Textbook of Thoracic Oncology.  He is currently a North American editor for the Cochrane Lung Cancer Review Group.

Ruckdeschel completed his undergraduate education in biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and received his medical degree from Albany Medical College in New York.  He went on to an internship at Johns Hopkins, residency at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston and fellowship at the National Cancer Institute's Baltimore Cancer Research Center.

Ruckdeschel is an avid ornithologist, having most recently served as vice president of the Red Rock Audubon Society in southern Nevada.  He and his wife are enthusiastic "foodies" and enjoy both cooking at home and dining out.

“I love to cook. I enjoy getting to know how people eat, what they eat,” he said, adding he's looking forward to having his own garden again and using locally grown vegetables in his meals.

And, just what does he expect from his new community? “Send me some recipes.”