Naoto T. Ueno headshot
UH Cancer Center Director Naoto T. Ueno

The new University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center Director Naoto T. Ueno said his vision is to make the UH Cancer Center a national and international leader in treatment and care development that will provide access to the latest cancer treatment to the people of Hawaiʻi and beyond.

“We will impact not only patients in our region—Hawaiʻi and the Pacific—but also internationally,” said Ueno, who officially started on December 12, 2022. “We will be known for our high quality standard of care that, along with our research, will create a stronger connection between the United States and Asia.”

Ueno most recently served as the executive director of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for 30 years, where he also held various faculty and administrative positions. He is the first UH Cancer Center director of Asian descent and is also a two-time cancer survivor.

“Being a cancer survivor provided me with a unique understanding because it is an important perspective you can only have if you have actually experienced life with cancer and survived,” said Ueno, who added that he is humbled by the opportunity to lead the only National Cancer Institute Designated (NCI) Cancer Center in Hawaiʻi, and one of only 71 in the country.

“The UH Cancer Center already works closely with the community and our healthcare systems to reduce cancer patients’ suffering through our novel strategy and advanced research,” said Ueno. “I would like to see us build on these efforts.”

My mission is to bring inclusiveness and expand our workforce’s diversity, ultimately leading to innovation and productivity
—Naoto T. Ueno

He said that includes building on the groundbreaking research the UH Cancer Center is already known for and its emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural and environmental characteristics of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.

He is probably most excited about the Early Phase Clinical Research Center, a key research initiative at the UH Cancer Center. Construction on the first phase of the facility began in fall 2022 and is tentatively scheduled to be completed in 2024. Congress just appropriated an additional $6.5 million for the project.

It will be the first of its kind in the state, providing access to Phase 1 trials to cancer patients from Hawaiʻi, so they do not have to travel to the continental U.S. for specialized treatments. Phase 1 trials represent cutting-edge cancer treatments and are often considered when patients have a particularly challenging form of cancer or when standard treatments have been unsuccessful. With the addition of the Early Phase Clinical Research Center, Ueno says the UH Cancer Center can have an impact beyond treating cancer and research.

“My mission is to bring inclusiveness and expand our workforce’s diversity, ultimately leading to innovation and productivity,” said Ueno.

With 15 years of leadership experience and 30 years of experience in research and education, particularly in stem cell transplant, gene therapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy, Ueno is widely regarded for his preclinical development and research efforts that have translated into clinical trials. He says he hopes his years of experience will benefit the expansion of UH Cancer Center’s clinical trials and community building efforts. Further, Ueno said he will invest in the center’s research programs, Cancer Biology and Population Science in the Pacific, so that they will have an accelerated impact in the community.