The Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) is reshaping its core leadership team.

These changes reflect the institute’s continued evolution and build upon its history of research and education excellence. The new positions also underscore the CCIL’s strong commitment to leadership development and the growth of some of the institute’s most visionary members. Each new appointee contributed significantly to CCIL research, education, and outreach initiatives. The following changes are effective immediately:

Timothy Fan Named Associate Director for Translation and Development

Timothy Fan, professor of veterinary clinical medicine, will be the Associate Director for Translation and Development. This newly created role will lead CCIL translational initiatives and interactions with clinical partners. Fan has researched preclinical tumors for over 15 years and facilitated improved cancer therapies. His lab collaborates with other researchers to evaluate novel drugs and drug delivery strategies for cancer treatment, work that closely aligns with his new role.

He previously served as a Program Leader in the Cancer Discovery Platforms Bridging the Engineering-Biology Continuum and will continue leading the CCIL’s Faculty Leadership Development Program.

Fan received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. He completed a Ph.D. in Tumor Immunology from the University of Illinois, where he investigated the anticancer effects of cytokine manipulation strategies.

Zeynep Madak-Erdogan Named Associate Director for Education

Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, professor of food science and human nutrition and associate dean of the Graduate College, replaces Rex Gaskins as the Associate Director for Education. Gaskins is stepping down from CCIL leadership after years of service and significant contributions as the Associate Director for Education.

Madak-Erdogan’s work focuses on improving the quality of life for postmenopausal women and breast cancer survivors by exploring how diet and nutrition affect hormone action. In addition to mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, she has taught courses in diet, nutrition and cancer, nutrition and women’s health, and toxicology.

During her time with the CCIL, Madak-Erdogan played a leading role in developing the Cancer Research Advocacy Group (CRAG), a group of cancer survivors and advocates who offer a patient’s perspective to research projects, clinical trials, outreach efforts, and education. She formerly served as a Program Leader in the CCIL’s Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination Program.

Zeynep received her Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from the University of Illinois in 2009. She was in the initial cohort of the CCIL’s Faculty Leadership Development Program (FLDP).

Viktor Gruev Named Program Leader of Cancer Measurement Technology and Data Science

Viktor Gruev, professor of electrical and computer engineering, replaces Stephen Boppart as a Program Leader in Cancer Measurement Technology and Data Science (CMD).

Gruev’s lab focuses on developing ultra-sensitive, compact, lightweight, and conformal imaging sensors capable of detecting cancer in clinical settings. He obtained his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and has received numerous awards for his research, including the 2016 IEEE Donald G. Fink Award for an outstanding scientific contribution to the IEEE Society.

Boppart is a founding Program Leader of CMD and has had numerous cancer-focused research accomplishments. His Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory develops novel optical technologies and translates these for cancer imaging. He has published over 350 invited and contributed publications and has over 45 patents related to optical biomedical imaging technology.

Viktor Gruev

Erik Nelson Named Program Leader of Cancer Discovery Platforms Bridging the Engineering–Biology Continuum

Erik Nelson, a molecular and integrative physiology professor, replaces Timothy Fan as a Program Leader in Cancer Discovery Platforms. Nelson is a trained endocrinologist with expertise in nuclear receptor pharmacology and has made significant contributions to reproductive physiology, pharmacology, bone biology, and cancer biology.

When he was a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University, Nelson was part of the team that discovered a drug that was recently approved for treating postmenopausal women or adult men with certain types of advanced or metastatic breast cancer and is the first new endocrine-related therapy approved in 20 years.

Nelson’s ongoing work seeks to develop novel therapeutics for cancer treatment. His lab currently focuses on using cholesterol homeostasis and cholesterol metabolism to retrain the immune system into attacking cancer cells rather than helping them. In addition to his research, Nelson established CRAG and provides leadership for the CCIL’s advocacy efforts.

Nelson completed his Ph.D. in Comparative Endocrinology at the University of Calgary. He was also in the founding cohort of the FLDP.

Erik Nelson

“I am delighted to have these members join our leadership team,” said Rohit Bhargava, CCIL Director. “Their unique combination of interdisciplinary research expertise, administrative experience, and inspired vision will be invaluable as our institute continues developing.”

Please join us in congratulating those transitioning from leadership positions and supporting the incoming CCIL members in their new roles.

Written by Tyler Wolpert, CCIL Assistant Director for Communications and Outreach. For questions, please email