Alumni Profile: Kathleen R. Cho, M.D., ‘84

From the Winter 2016 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Leading the charge against ovarian cancer

Photo by University of Michigan
Photo by University of Michigan

Kathleen R. Cho, M.D., ‘84, has always had a love for the biological sciences, which birthed a passion for improving human health, especially for women facing the devastating diagnosis of gynecological cancer.

Cho was recently elected to the National Academy of Medicine in recognition of her major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. She has received many accolades for her work in cancer research and has more than two decades of grant support from the National Cancer Institute, the Ovarian Cancer Research Program of the Department of Defense and several private foundations.

Her research focus is ovarian cancer, the most lethal gynecological cancer in the United States. Although breast cancer is much more common, the mortality-to-incidence ratio for ovarian cancer is nearly three times higher.

“A major obstacle to improving the outcome for ovarian cancer patients is the need for more effective ways to explore new approaches for prevention, early diagnosis and treatment in the pre-clinical setting,” said Cho, who has worked diligently to address this issue by developing unique mouse models for studying ovarian tumor biology.

“One of the things I’m most excited about is developing animal model systems that closely mimic human disease,” Cho said. “My area of clinical expertise—gynecologic surgical pathology—dovetails nicely with my research interests—understanding the molecular basis of gynecological cancers.”

Cho was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and grew up in Rockville, Maryland. She attended Yale University and graduated in 1980. Her next stop was at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“I got a great vibe from Vanderbilt when I interviewed for medical school. I had a gut feeling that it would be a great fit for me, and it was,” Cho said. “I have great memories of many fantastic classmates and outstanding teachers. I’m a pathologist today largely because of Drs. Robert Collins, David Page, George Gray, and others who introduced me to a medical specialty that goes ‘unseen’ by many.”

Cho completed her internship and residency in anatomic pathology at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Her home has been at University of Michigan (UM) for the past 17 years, where she is the Peter A. Ward Professor of Pathology and Vice-Chair for Academic Affairs at the University of Michigan Medical School. She is also a professor of Internal Medicine.

Cho said one of her biggest accomplishments has been managing her life.

“I’m thankful that I’ve been able to successfully balance career, family and other interests,” she said.

She shares her life with her husband, Eric Fearon, M.D., Ph.D., her two daughters, Kate and Sara Nelson, and two dogs, Ferris and Sargent.

Cho is a self-professed “dog person,” a UM basketball fan and enjoys testing her culinary skills in the kitchen. She also loves “visiting” the town of her medical school alma mater by watching the popular television show “Nashville.”

“I’m amazed by how much Vanderbilt and Nashville have changed since 1984,” she said.