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Kathryn Hacker Gessner, MD, PhD
Kathryn Hacker Gessner, MD, PhD

We are thrilled to announce the latest addition to our esteemed faculty at UNC Urology – Kathryn Hacker Gessner, MD, PhD, who will be officially starting as an Assistant Professor in December.

Dr. Gessner’s journey with our program has been nothing short of remarkable to witness, having completed her Doctor of Philosophy, Medical Doctorate, Urology Residency, and a Clinical Fellowship in Urologic Oncology, all at UNC.

We are excited to welcome Dr. Gessner as a faculty member, educator, and colleague, and we look forward to witnessing her continued contributions to the field.

As we share this news during the 2023 Society of Urologic Oncology Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, we invite all those in attendance to join us in celebrating her remarkable achievements and help us in welcoming her to her faculty Appointment with UNC Urology.

From MD-PhD to Assistant Professor: Dr. Gessner’s Journey Thus Far

Dr. Gessner’s academic trek at UNC commenced with the UNC School of Medicine’s MD-PhD program, where she delved into the intricacies of genetics and epigenetics, focusing on kidney cancers. Under the mentorship of Dr. W. Kimryn Rathmell, then a faculty member of the Department of Medicine at UNC and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Gessner’s PhD work centered on the impact of mutations in the SETD2 gene. Specifically, she studied how mutations in SETD2 change DNA accessibility, RNA processing, and cancer-promoting cell behaviors – pivotal to the understanding of kidney cancer development and progression. Notably, President Biden recently appointed Dr. Rathmell as the new Director of the National Cancer Institute, further emphasizing the caliber of mentors shaping Dr. Gessner’s early career.

Dr. Gessner matriculated into the UNC Urology Residency Program in 2016, and while her primary collaborations with advisor and mentors Dr. William Kim and Dr. Ray Tan intensified during her Clinical Fellowship, the seeds of her exceptional research contributions were sown during her residency, working alongside many of our faculty members to reduce post-operative opioid use following urologic surgeries, with her work featured in the American Urological Association annual meeting Press Program. In 2018, she received the Department of Urology Resident of the Year Award in recognition of her clinical and research contributions to the department.

Building on her residency experiences, Dr. Gessner’s commitment to advancing urologic oncology led her to pursue a Society of Urologic Oncology Fellowship here at UNC starting in 2021. Over the last few years Dr. Gessner has worked extensively with her primary mentor, Dr. William Kim, as well as with Dr. Ray Tan.

During her fellowship, Dr. Gessner’s projects expanded to include not only molecular changes in kidney cancer but also the genetic nuances of bladder cancer. In Dr. Kim’s lab, Dr. Gessner’s research projects focused on intratumoral heterogeneity in bladder and kidney cancer as well as how physician-scientists can utilize genomic analysis of renal mass biopsy specimens to improve tumor risk stratification. Under the mentorship of Dr. Tan, Dr. Gessner studied the impact of renal mass biopsy on decisional conflict in patients with small renal masses.

Meeting Presentations: Sharing Knowledge on a National Stage

Dr. Gessner at the 2022 BCAN Think Tank
Dr. Gessner at the 2022 BCAN Think Tank
Dr. Gessner at the 2022 BCAN Think Tank
Dr. Gessner at the 2022 BCAN Think Tank

Dr. Gessner’s contributions have not gone unnoticed, as evidenced by her prolific presence at national meetings, garnering numerous presentations and research awards. Notable among these are the Women in Urologic Oncology Best Poster Award in 2022, the 2nd Place Poster at the Society of Urologic Oncology Young Urologic Oncologists Poster Session in 2018, and the Best Poster Award at the 2018 American Urologic Association Annual Meeting. Her impactful engagement spans esteemed gatherings such as the American Urologic Association Annual Meeting, the Society of Urologic Oncology Annual Meeting, the Kidney Cancer Association’s International Kidney Cancer Symposium, and the BCAN Bladder Cancer Think Tank Meeting. Through these platforms, she has consistently shared her insights and research findings, contributing significantly to the broader urologic community.

Highlighting Significant Awards: Recognizing Excellence in Urologic Oncology

Dr. Gessner’s early career has already been punctuated by several prestigious awards. Recently, Dr. Gessner was honored with two separate “Young Investigator Awards,” from notable foundations, highlighting her promise to make meaningful contributions to advancing cancer treatments and research.

Dr. Gessner received the Conquer Cancer, ASCO Foundation’s “Tomasello Family Women Who Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award,” recognizing her potential during the transition from fellowship to a faculty appointment. Additionally, Dr. Gessner was awarded the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) “2023 Young Investigator Award,” acknowledging her commitment to unraveling the complexities of bladder cancer.

In early 2023, Dr. Gessner was also named a recipient of UNC Lineberger’s Comprehensive Cancer Center “Pope Clinical Trainee Awards.” This award, supported by the John William Pope Foundation, recognizes emerging physician-researchers for excellence, accomplishment, and dedication to cancer research and clinical care.

We eagerly anticipate future research and clinical care excellence from Dr. Gessner and have little doubts of her lasting impact. Please stay tuned for more updates on Dr. Kathryn Hacker Gessner’s extraordinary contributions to the field yet to come.