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In Memoriam: Denise Chan, PhD

Published: 10/31/2014

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Denise Chan, PhD, an assistant professor and radiobiologist in the Department of Radiation Oncology, has passed away Friday, October 24, after a long, valiant fight against cancer.

Denise joined the faculty of the UCSF Department of Radiation Oncology in 2009 after receiving her PhD and completing postdoctoral work at Stanford in the laboratory of Dr. Amato Giaccia. With Dr. Giaccia, she investigated several aspects of the mechanism of cellular oxygen sensing, providing valuable insights into the pathways through which hypoxia promotes tumor progression and resistance to ionizing radiation.

Denise also made vital contributions to our understanding of the mechanisms of hypoxia-induced angiogenesis and helped to discover new synthetic lethality-mediated approaches to target hypoxic cancer cells. The promise of her young career was reflected in several awards including the Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Award and the Lance Armstrong Foundation Scholarship.

During her career at UCSF, she and her laboratory made important scientific advances, including the discovery of a link between hypoxia and down-regulation of the estrogen receptor, which is relevant to the often resistant estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. Denise also continued her work on new small molecule inhibitors that selectively kill hypoxic cells, and identified additional small molecule inhibitors that selectively kill cells expressing telomerase, providing new possible approaches for killing cancer cells.

As chair Mack Roach noted in an email to the department, Denise was a wonderful colleague, who was loved by her students, postdoctoral fellows, and fellow faculty members. She had an infectious love for life, and was an avid Giants fan. Her amazing courage and positive attitude in the face of incredible odds were an inspiration to all who knew her. She is survived by her husband, Trent, as well as many family members and friends.