Prominent cancer researcher joins MSU

October 3, 2023

Olorunseun "Seun" Ogunwobi headshot

Internationally renowned cancer researcher Olorunseun “Seun” Ogunwobi joined Michigan State University in August as chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which is affiliated with the College of Natural Science, the College of Human Medicine and the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

He also serves as the co-director of the forthcoming Center for Cancer Health Equity Research at MSU.

Born and raised in Ibadan, Nigeria, Ogunwobi received his medical degree from the University of Ibadan, the top-ranked university in Nigeria and one of the best universities in Africa. He would go on to earn a master's degree in biomedicine from the University of Hull, United Kingdom; a master's degree in clinical and translational science from the University of Florida, Gainesville; and a Ph.D. in molecular medicine from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom.

Early in his studies, Ogunwobi had planned to pursue a career practicing medicine in the clinic. But, through his graduate work, he found he had a passion for cancer research and, as a postdoctoral researcher, also became interested in racial disparities in cancer diagnoses and treatment.

“So I wrote a proposal on prostate cancer disparities and, shortly after that, was able to start in a laboratory as an independent investigator and decided to focus on solid organ cancers with established disparities,” Ogunwobi said. “The rest is history!”

Ogunwobi is was professor of biology at the Hunter College of The City University of New York, founding director and principal investigator of the Hunter College Center for Cancer Health Disparities Research and an adjunct faculty member of the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Department of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine. He has been on the CUNY faculty since 2014.

“As BMB chair, I will be looking to enhance the department’s progress in inclusivity and diversity, while elevating BMB’s leadership role in research and expanding its research to include new areas such as molecular mechanisms of progression of solid organ cancers with established disparities in incidence and outcomes,” Ogunwobi said.

Ogunwobi is also the co-founder of two New York-based startup companies, UTR Therapeutics Inc., a pre-clinical stage biotech company with a first-in-class technology that can overwrite any target of interest; and NucleoBio Inc., a developer of diagnostics tools designed to detect non-invasive urological cancer. He is also a contact principal investigator of the Synergistic Partnership for Enhancing Equity in Cancer Health, or SPEECH, funded by a U54 grant from the National Cancer Institute.

“We are looking forward Dr. Ogunwobi’s leadership as chair and the founding co-director of the new MSU Center for Cancer Health Equity Research,” said Dean Aron Sousa. “Our college strategic plan calls us to help improve health equity, and the science and leadership of Dr. Ogunwobi will be core to our success.”

In addition to his leadership role in BMB, Ogunwobi is relocating his research group to MSU to continue his research. The overall goal of the lab is to better understand the molecular mechanisms of progression of solid cancers.

The group is also investigating the biological mechanisms underlying racial disparities in specific solid cancers.

“I look forward to continuing this work and to securing more multi-disciplinary center grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and federal, state and other funding agencies,” Ogunwobi said. “That’s a particular goal that touches on both BMB and my personal research. “

When asked what attracted him to Michigan State, Ogunwobi said that the wide array of offerings and the opportunity for broad collaborations — both across the university and with outside partners — was very captivating. He’s also excited to join the MSU and East Lansing communities with his family.

“When I left the University of Ibadan, I missed all that such a large university had to offer,” Ogunwobi explained. “MSU gives me the opportunity to come back to something close to what I had there. I love the classic university setting that MSU is — there is a lot of academic, research, community service and other kinds of work that creates a huge community that’s self-sufficient in a lot of ways. That was a huge draw for me.”

This story originally appeared on the College of Natural Science website.