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James R. Downing, MD
James R. Downing, MD

James R. Downing, MD

Member, St. Jude Faculty

  • President and Chief Executive Officer, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
  • Donald Pinkel Chair of Childhood Cancer Treatment


About James R. Downing, MD

James R. Downing, MD, is president and chief executive officer of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He is leading a $12.9 billion commitment to accelerate progress in the research and treatment of pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases. This strategy includes expanding St. Jude clinical care and scientific programs in Memphis and around the globe; adding 2,300 jobs; providing $2.3 billion in new construction, renovation and capital needs; and opening new areas of research.

Dr. Downing’s laboratory work focuses on understanding the genetic basis of cancer and using that information to improve treatments. He was instrumental in launching the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, an ambitious sequencing effort to discover why childhood cancer arises, spreads and resists treatment. This landmark project has ushered in a decade of discoveries that continues to benefit children.

Beyond research, Dr. Downing has been a driving force to take St. Jude to the world. He has championed an expansive program to raise pediatric cancer survival rates internationally. This is being accomplished in part through a global alliance of health care providers who work to ensure children everywhere have access to quality care.

Dr. Downing has received numerous honors, including election to the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received the Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize, the E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize from the American Society of Hematology and the Pediatric Oncology Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Most recently, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy Class of 2022.

Under Dr. Downing’s tenure, St. Jude has been highly rated for its organizational culture by Glassdoor and Fortune magazine. The institution has received numerous accolades as a top workplace for millennials, a best workplace for diversity and a destination workplace for women.


MD – University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (1981)

Honors & Awards

  • 2022 Elected, American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Fellow
  • 2020 Outstanding Achievement in Pediatric Cancer Research Award, AACR-St. Baldrick’s Foundation
  • 2019 Pediatric Oncology Award and Lecture, American Society of Clinical Oncology
  • 2018 Selected, Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches Project
  • 2017 E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize from the American Society of Hematology
  • 2017 The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize 
  • 2016 Elected, American Academy of Arts & Sciences
  • 2016 Appointed, Blue Ribbon Panel for Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative
  • 2013 Elected, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences (now known as National Academy of Medicine)
  • 2013 Finalist, TIME magazine’s list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People
  • 2012 Association for Molecular Pathology Award for Excellence
  • 2009 American Association for Cancer Research, Team Science Award
  • 2007 The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Kenneth B. McCredie Memorial Lecturer
  • 2003 Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
  • 2003 Member, Association of American Physicians
  • 2003 Maude Abbott Lectureship, United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology
  • 1999 Awarded "Alumnus of the Year" University of Michigan, Dearborn
  • 1998 Member, American Society for Clinical Investigation

Research Interests

  • Developmental hematopoiesis and the role of AML1 in the formation of hematopoietic stem cells
  • Mechanisms of Leukemogenesis
  • Mouse genetics
  • Clinical applications of expression profiling

The AML1/CBF beta transcription factor complex in normal and leukemic hematopoiesis

Selected Publications

Umeda M, Ma J, Huang BJ, Hagiwara K, Westover T, Abdelhamed S, Barajas JM, Thomas ME, Walsh MP, Song G, Tian L, Liu Y, Chen X, Kolekar P, Tran Q, Foy SG, Maciaszek JL, Kleist AB, Leonti AR, Ju B, Easton J, Wu H, Valentine V, Valentine MB, Liu YC, Ries RE, Smith JL, Parganas E, Iacobucci I, Hiltenbrand R, Miller J, Myers JR, Rampersaud E, Rahbarinia D, Rusch M, Wu G, Inaba H, Wang YC, Alonzo TA, Downing JR, Mullighan CG, Pounds S, Babu MM, Zhang J, Rubnitz JE, Meshinchi S, Ma X, Klco JM. Integrated Genomic Analysis Identifies UBTF Tandem Duplications as a Recurrent Lesion in Pediatric Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Blood Cancer Discov May 5;3(3):194-207, 2022.

Hetzel S, Mattei AL, Kretzmer H, Qu C, Chen X, Fan Y, Wu G, Roberts KG, Luger S, Litzow M, Rowe J, Paietta E, Stock W, Mardis ER, Wilson RK, Downing JR, Mullighan CG, Meissner A. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia displays a distinct highly methylated genome. Nat Cancer May 19, 2022. Online ahead of print.

Jeha S, Choi J, Roberts KG, Pei D, Coustan-Smith E, Inaba H, Rubnitz JE, Ribeiro RC, Gruber TA, Raimondi SC, Karol SE, Qu C, Brady SW, Gu Z, Yang JJ, Cheng C, Downing JR, Evans WE, Relling MV, Campana D, Mullighan CG, Pui CH. Clinical significance of novel subtypes of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the context of minimal residual disease-directed therapy. Blood Cancer Discov Jul;2(4):326-337, 2021.

Newman S, Nakitandwe J, Kesserwan CA, Azzato EM, Wheeler DA, Rusch M, Shurtleff S, Hedges DJ, Hamilton KV, Foy SG, Edmonson MN, Thrasher A, Bahrami A, Orr BA, Klco JM, Gu J, Harrison LW, Wang L, Clay MR, Ouma A, Silkov A, Liu Y, Zhang Z, Liu Y, Brady SW, Zhou X, Chang TC, Pande M, Davis E, Becksfort J, Patel A, Wilkinson MR, Rahbarinia D, Kubal M, Maciaszek JL, Pastor V, Knight J, Gout AM, Wang J, Gu Z, Mullighan CG, McGee RB, Quinn EA, Nuccio R, Mostafavi R, Gerhardt EL, Taylor LM, Valdez JM, Hines-Dowell SJ, Pappo AS, Robinson G, Johnson LM, Pui CH, Ellison DW, Downing JR, Zhang J, Nichols KE. Genomes for Kids: The Scope of Pathogenic Mutations in Pediatric Cancer Revealed by Comprehensive DNA and RNA Sequencing. Cancer Discov Dec 1;11(12):3008-3027, 2021.

McLeod C, Gout AM, Zhou X, Thrasher A, Rahbarinia D, Brady SW, Macias M, Birch K, Finkelstein D, Sunny J, Mudunuri R, Orr BA, Treadway M, Davidson B, Ard TK, Chiao A, Swistak A, Wiggins S, Foy S, Wang J, Sioson E, Wang S, Michael JR, Liu Y, Ma X, Patel A, Edmonson MN, Wilkinson MR, Frantz AM, Chang TC, Tian L, Lei S, Islam SMA, Meyer C, Thangaraj N, Tater P, Kandali V, Ma S, Nguyen T, Serang O, McGuire I, Robison N, Gentry D, Tang X, Palmer LE, Wu G, Suh E, Tanner L, McMurry J, Lear M, Pappo AS, Wang Z, Wilson CL, Cheng Y, Meshinchi S, Alexandrov LB, Weiss MJ, Armstrong GT, Robison LL, Yasui Y, Nichols KE, Ellison DW, Bangur C, Mullighan CG, Baker SJ, Dyer MA, Miller G, Newman S, Rusch M, Daly R, Perry K, Downing JR, Zhang J. St. Jude Cloud: A Pediatric Cancer Genomic Data-Sharing Ecosystem. Cancer Discov May;11(5):1082-1099, 2021.

Fornerod M, Ma J, Noort S, Liu Y, Walsh MP, Shi L, Nance S, Liu Y, Wang Y, Song G, Lamprecht T, Easton J, Mulder HL, Yergeau D, Myers J, Kamens JL, Obeng EA, Pigazzi M, Jarosova M, Kelaidi C, Polychronopoulou S, Lamba JK, Baker SD, Rubnitz JE, Reinhardt D, van den Heuvel-Eibrink MM, Locatelli F, Hasle H, Klco JM, Downing JR, Zhang J, Pounds S, Zwaan CM, Gruber TA; Berlin-Frankfurt-Munster Study Group (BFM); Dutch Children's Oncology Group (DCOG); Associazione Italiana di Ematologia e Oncologia Pediatrica (AIEOP); Nordic Society for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology (NOPHO); Dutch Children's Oncology Group (DCOG); for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Study Group (SJCRH). Integrative Genomic Analysis of Pediatric Myeloid-Related Acute Leukemias Identifies Novel Subtypes and Prognostic Indicators. Blood Cancer Discov Sep 9;2(6):586-599, 2021.

Elsayed AH, Rafiee R, Cao X, Raimondi S, Downing JR, Ribeiro R, Fan Y, Gruber TA, Baker S, Klco J, Rubnitz JE, Pounds S, Lamba JK. A six-gene leukemic stem cell score identifies high risk pediatric acute myeloid leukemia. Leukemia Mar;34(3):735-745, 2020.

Elsayed AH, Rafiee R, Cao X, Raimondi S, Downing JR, Ribeiro R, Fan Y, Gruber TA, Baker S, Klco J, Rubnitz JE, Pounds S, Lamba JK. Correction: A six-gene leukemic stem cell score identifies high risk pediatric acute myeloid leukemia. Leukemia Oct;34(10):2821, 2020.

Qin N, Wang Z, Liu Q, Song N, Wilson CL, Ehrhardt MJ, Shelton K, Easton J, Mulder H, Kennetz D, Edmonson MN, Rusch MC, Downing JR, Hudson MM, Nichols KE, Zhang J, Robison LL, Yasui Y. Pathogenic Germline Mutations in DNA Repair Genes in Combination With Cancer Treatment Exposures and Risk of Subsequent Neoplasms Among Long-Term Survivors of Childhood Cancer. J Clin Oncol Aug 20;38(24):2728-2740, 2020.

Wandler AM, Huang BJ, Craig JW, Hayes K, Yan H, Meyer LK, Scacchetti A, Monsalve G, Dail M, Li Q, Wong JC, Weinberg O, Hasserjian RP, Kogan SC, Jonsson P, Yamamoto K, Sampath D, Nakitandwe J, Downing JR, Zhang J, Aster JC, Taylor BS, Shannon K. Loss of glucocorticoid receptor expression mediates in vivo dexamethasone resistance in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Leukemia Aug;34(8):2025-2037, 2020.

Li B, Brady SW, Ma X, Shen S, Zhang Y, Li Y, Szlachta K, Dong L, Liu Y, Yang F, Wang N, Flasch DA, Myers MA, Mulder HL, Ding L, Liu Y, Tian L, Hagiwara K, Xu K, Zhou X, Sioson E, Wang T, Yang L, Zhao J, Zhang H, Shao Y, Sun H, Sun L, Cai J, Sun HY, Lin TN, Du L, Li H, Rusch M, Edmonson MN, Easton J, Zhu X, Zhang J, Cheng C, Raphael BJ, Tang J, Downing JR, Alexandrov LB, Zhou BS, Pui CH, Yang JJ, Zhang J. Therapy-induced mutations drive the genomic landscape of relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Blood Jan 2;135(1):41-55, 2020.

Wang Z, Rice SV, Chang TC, Liu Y, Liu Q, Qin N, Putnam DK, Shelton K, Lanctot JQ, Wilson CL, Ness KK, Rusch MC, Edmonson MN, Wu G, Easton J, Kesserwan CA, Downing JR, Chen X, Nichols KE, Yasui Y, Robison LL, Zhang J. Molecular Mechanism of Telomere Length Dynamics and Its Prognostic Value in Pediatric Cancers. J Natl Cancer Inst Jul 1;112(7):756-764, 2020.

Jeha S, Pei D, Choi J, Cheng C, Sandlund JT, Coustan-Smith E, Campana D, Inaba H, Rubnitz JE, Ribeiro RC, Gruber TA, Raimondi SC, Khan RB, Yang JJ, Mullighan CG, Downing JR, Evans WE, Relling MV, Pui CH. Improved CNS Control of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Without Cranial Irradiation: St Jude Total Therapy Study 16. J Clin Oncol Dec 10;37(35):3377-3391, 2019.

Newman S, Fan L, Pribnow A, Silkov A, Rice SV, Lee S, Shao Y, Shaner B, Mulder H, Nakitandwe J, Shurtleff S, Azzato EM, Wu G, Zhou X, Barnhill R, Easton J, Nichols KE, Ellison DW, Downing JR, Pappo A, Potter PM, Zhang J, Bahrami A. Clinical genome sequencing uncovers potentially targetable truncations and fusions of MAP3K8 in spitzoid and other melanomas. Nat Med Apr;25(4):597-602, 2019. 

Last update: May 2022