At some point in life, nearly everyone will be affected by a cancer diagnosis, either directly or through someone they know. Which is why the stakes are high for Dr. Michael Teitell, director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCLA-JCCC), one of the nation’s top cancer centers. The center has more than 500 physicians and scientists engaged in cancer research, prevention, detection, control, diagnosis, treatment, education and community engagement. As one of the largest National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the country, the UCLA-JCCC handles more than 20,000 patient visits per year and conducts hundreds of clinical trials, providing the latest in experimental cancer treatments. Teitell holds appointments and memberships in various medical departments and centers, and on top of all of that, he is the NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative for UCLA.
Dr. Teitell’s professional journey began in his teens after having learned his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. What ensued over the next two decades was the emotional rollercoaster of watching someone he loved undergo chemotherapy, while trying to comprehend what was going on in the body, which ignited his passion to battle cancer. His interest in biomedical research, coupled with his drive to find out what happens in cancer in order to work to fix it, led him to specialize in pathology, which studies the basis of human diseases by examining and diagnosing tissues and cells that are removed from the body.
His educational pursuits resulted in quadruple degrees at UCLA – concurrent B.S. and M.S. in the College Honors Program in 1985 and combined M.D. and Ph.D. degrees in the UCLA Medical Scientist Training Program in 1993. He followed that up as a resident and clinical instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, UC San Francisco, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and UCLA. He joined the UCLA faculty in 1999, became a full professor in 2008 and was appointed UCLA-JCCC director in August 2017 and is president of its charitable foundation. Teitell also holds the Latta Endowed Chair in Pathology, joint appointments in the departments of pediatrics and bioengineering and serves as chief of the division of pediatric and neonatal pathology. A renowned molecular immunologist and biochemist, his research on the fundamental mechanisms of cancer formation and progression has attained international acclaim.
Despite wearing numerous hats, Dr. Teitell always exudes a confident, positive demeanor, believing in facilitating and enabling his team members, keeping focused on the work and serving the community. The UCLA-JCCC exemplifies this philosophy with its cutting edge advances in technology, drug discovery and development, and immunotherapy (stimulating the immune system to combat cancer). Whether it’s identifying the blueprint of a cancer or assigning tailored therapy drugs by patient, he works in the center with its researchers at the highest standards, as the center lives up to its elite designation as a comprehensive cancer center, one that treats the whole person and is responsive to its community.
Dr. Teitell holds another unique position as the only cancer director in the U.S. to serve as an NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR). The role entails serving as the academic faculty liaison with athletics, advocating for student-athletes while protecting the academic integrity of the university to help ensure that the goals in the department of Athletics align with the goals of UCLA. Following six years of service on the Academic Senate Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, he was appointed as FAR, reporting to the chancellor, and continues to serve as the chair of the Pac-12 Conference Diversity Leadership Committee and Pac-12 Conference Woman of the Year Nominating Committee. His love for sports is evident outside of work. As an undergraduate, he tutored student-athletes and always admired how hard they worked despite being tired from competing at the highest level. Moreover, he is an avid runner, softball player and little league umpire.
Teitell says that at UCLA, excellence is always the measure of success. That’s why the UCLA-JCCC continues to strive to be the leading center for new therapies, especially in immunotherapy and personalized medicine. Their excellence in research translates to better care, to numerous clinical trials and FDA-approved drugs. The war against cancer requires a coordinated attack on many fronts and the only way each battle can be won is by acquiring resources, performing outstanding research in many areas, sharing information and training the next generation to continue the fight. It’s a fight Teitell has waged his entire life – and he won’t rest until a cure is found.
Learn more about the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.