5 Questions for a Brunonian: Pancreatic cancer pioneer Diane Simeone ’84

The surgeon and scientist reveals how Brown and the power of collaboration have influenced her groundbreaking work in clinical cancer research.

During the 2018 Women's Week, an initiative of Brown's Women's Leadership Council, Brunonians were asked to nominate fellow alumnae who inspired them. Serena H. Chen ’84 posted this:

“Dr. Diane Simeone ’84 is changing the way cancer research is done by pulling together resources from academics, clinical research, industry, tech, data science and patient voices to cure a disease—pancreatic cancer—that has so far defied attempts at a cure. Usually these sectors work separately and sometimes against each other and she's brought these resources together in Precision Promise. I believe that this innovative model has the potential to change the way we approach all problems in medicine: recognizing that we can accomplish more through collaboration rather than competition and separation. Diane and I were in the same class at Brown but didn't meet until we became close friends at Duke Medical School. She's an amazing and inspiring friend, colleague, and physician.”

We couldn't have said it better ourselves, and, it made us want to know more.

Why did you choose Brown?

I was attracted to Brown's curriculum: great exposure to a wide variety of courses, without the rigidity present at some other top-tier schools. I was drawn to the academic rigor, intellectual curiosity, and commitment to the education of the undergraduate.

What impact did your Brown experience have on you?

The environment at Brown really allowed me to grow as a person. I was a neuroscience concentrator, and thoroughly enjoyed all the courses in my concentration—which ultimately led me to a career in medicine and surgery—but equally impactful were the outstanding courses I took in art history, literature, and sociology. There is tremendous value in being well-rounded and a broad thinker, and Brown fosters this key part of one's development.

What achievement or contribution are you most proud of, and why?

From a professional perspective, I am most proud of my contributions to the pancreatic cancer field: the discovery of pancreatic cancer stem cells, which initiate tumors and drive metastasis; leading the establishment of a new national clinical trial consortium, Precision Promise, which will transform how we do clinical trials in cancer; and pushing the envelope in early detection. An important aspect of all of this is serving as a mentor for very talented individuals who are now assuming leadership positions in academia. From a personal perspective, I am very proud of my family and children, and of carrying the message that a healthy balance between work and personal life leads to the greatest success.

What do you hope to achieve with your work?

I strongly believe we are on the cusp of a breakthrough in outcomes for pancreatic cancer. I have set a goal for a 50% five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer in the next 10 years. Key to this outcome is innovation in basic science discovery and delivering exciting advances to the clinical setting. Equally important is innovation in how we work together to accomplish this goal. We have recently established novel models of collaboration in clinical trials and early detection that should markedly accelerate the pace of advances for pancreatic cancer patients.

Talk about someone in the Brown community who inspires you.

My classmates and colleagues inspired me the most. It was so wonderful to be in an environment where you are surrounded by people who seek to change the world and are from all walks of life and every corner of the world. You realize that Brown serves as this incredible magnet to attract such accomplished people—and one of those people is you. It gave me a lot of confidence to feel I could tackle any kind of challenge.

Bonus question: You find a time machine and can go back to your first year at Brown and tell your younger self one thing. What would it be?

Don’t underestimate what you can accomplish. But realize none of it can be accomplished without the help of others.


Diane Simeone concentrated in neuroscience and played varsity basketball while at Brown. She earned her medical degree from Duke University and completed her residency at University of Michigan Medical Center before joining its faculty in 1995. She is currently associate director for translational research at Perlmutter Cancer Center and head of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, the chair of the Scientific and Medical Advisory Board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and a leader of the Precision Promise national trial consortium. She has more than 165 published studies in leading peer-reviewed journals.

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