Michael Birrer named Kent C. Westbrook, M.D. Director’s Chair at Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute

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Michael Birrer, vice chancellor and director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, was invested July 15 in the Kent C. Westbrook, M.D. Director’s Chair for the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

The chair, established with the help of a $500,000 challenge gift, honors Kent C. Westbrook, the founding director of what is now the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, and a distinguished professor in the Department of Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine. He received the college’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 1978 and the Distinguished Faculty Service Award in 2013.

Birrer was named vice chancellor and director of the Cancer Institute in 2019 and leads all cancer-related activities for UAMS, whose cancer clinics report more than 150,000 patient visits each year. There are about 150 UAMS faculty members engaged in cancer-related research and clinical activities. He was selected to lead the cancer institute toward achieving its goal of receiving NCI Designation.

A native of Clarksville, Arkansas, Westbrook graduated first in his class from UAMS in 1965. Following his general surgery residency at UAMS, he completed a surgical oncology fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. 

He returned to Arkansas determined to establish a cancer program with friend and fellow cancer surgeon James Y. Suen, so Arkansans would not have to leave the state for treatment. Westbrook worked with colleagues throughout much of the 1970s and early 1980s to develop comprehensive cancer programs at UAMS, culminating in the 1984 formation of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, the Cancer Institute’s predecessor. Westbrook served as its founding director for 14 years.

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