University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

CTSI Spotlight: Joel Palefsky

By | February 26, 2014

CTSI Spotlight:  Joel Palefsky

Joel Palefsky, MD

Joel Palefsky, MD, is the director of the Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship Program (CTRFP) at CTSI. Note: Dr. Palefsky was recently awarded an $89 million grant from the National Cancer Institute for a major investigation of anal cancer.

How long have you worked at UCSF?

I’ve been at UCSF since 1989, nearly 25 years now.

What do you do at UCSF and how is it connected to the UCSF mission?

Like most faculty, my work at UCSF has several different components.  I like to think that I personify the cross-disciplinary, team-based clinical and translational research approach for which UCSF is so well known.  I have a basic science lab in which I and my very talented colleagues investigate the molecular pathogenesis of DNA tumor viruses such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and Epstein Barr virus (EBV).  We’re focused on their role in diseases of epithelial cells, such as cervical cancer, anal cancer, and oropharyngeal cancer ,and trying to develop novel therapies for these diseases.  On the clinical end of the spectrum, I founded and direct the UCSF Anal Neoplasia Clinic where I see patients.  And in the middle of the spectrum, I direct a talented multidisciplinary team of clinical researchers focused on testing new therapies for HPV-related diseases and preventing anal cancer through primary prevention (vaccination) and secondary prevention (screening and treatment of cancer precursor lesions).  All of these efforts are closely tied together and feed each other.  Clinical samples from the Anal Neoplasia Clinic and the research clinic make their way into my lab.  Work in the lab has generated important clinical and clinical research questions.  

Another passion of mine is training young pre-doctoral researchers from all four UCSF schools in clinical and translational research and engaging them early in their careers.  Our goal is to stimulate them to continue their training as they advance, and continue to become lifelong researchers/ learners in their careers.  To this end, I direct the CTSI’s Clinical and Translational Research Fellowship Program which includes the TL1 pre-doctoral student training program and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation International Clinical Research Fellowship Program.   

I enjoy teaching very much, and I lecture and teach in several courses.  Other teaching activities are also tied closely into the work we do in the Anal Neoplasia Clinic and research clinic.  We train clinicians from all of the world in our clinic in a technique called high resolution anoscopy and give didactic courses in this technique and anal cancer prevention around the country and the world.