Institute Welcomes Prof. Jeff Toretsky

Dr. Jeffrey Toretsky received his MD in 1988 from the University of Minnesota. He completed his pediatric residency at the Medical College of Virginia in 1991, and his pediatric oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute Pediatric Branch in 1997. In 2002, Dr. Toretsky was recruited from the University of Maryland to Georgetown University; where he was promoted to full professor with tenure in 2011. He was inducted into the American Society of Clinical Investigation in 2007 and received the Burroughs-Wellcome Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research in 2008.

Dr. Toretsky actively pursues research that will lead to new and more specific therapies for a very rare cancer, Ewing sarcoma. His work focuses on Ewing sarcoma, since the tumors contain a unique target that is not found in non-tumor cells. This unique target offers an opportunity to create new medicines that will more specifically eliminate tumor growth while sparing normal cells. In 2009, Dr. Toretsky and his team revealed the molecule called YK-4-279 that targets Ewing sarcoma with an article in Nature Medicine. YK-4-279 has the potential to be a potent new strategy in the fight against not only Ewing sarcoma, but also other cancers and diseases with similar characteristics. He cofounded Tokalas, Inc. to advance YK-4-279 to a clinical trial that should commence in the spring of 2016.

A deeper investigation into the mechanism of YK-4-279 has led Dr. Toretsky into the world of phase separation and soft matter. He is particularly interested in understanding how protein complexes he called ‘assemblages’ occur and how they function in RNA processing. In a more granular exploration of the fusion protein EWS-FLI1 in Ewing sarcoma and the action of YK-4-279, he identified EWS-FLI1 as a major regulator of alternative mRNA splicing and hypothesizes that splicing occurs in a phase separated assemblage called a nuclear speckle. He leads a team that is now undertaking projects elucidating oncogenic mechanisms occurring through phase separation of assemblages, including: alternative splicing and chromatin access by transcription factors. Active collaborations in the I(SM)2 include professors Blair, Metallo, Olmsted, and Del Gado.

Dr. Toretsky leads the Molecular Oncology Program of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, and co-leads a multidisciplinary sarcoma clinic at Children’s National Medical Center. He is engaged in teaching at levels from high school through faculty mentoring. His wife, three children, dogs (Lucy and Greta), a passion for SCUBA diving and a clarinet support him in these endeavors.