By Robert Stephens | March 30, 2023 3:44 pm

College of Medicine leader Dr. Jane Gibson is one of four UCF professors named this year’s Pegasus Professors, UCF’s highest faculty designation. Pegasus Professors are selected by the president and provost and are recognized for excellence in teaching, research and service.

Dr. Gibson is a founding faculty member at the medical school, where she serves as Professor of pathology, Chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs, and Director of Molecular Diagnostics.

Few people know: She was a candidate for the astronaut program in the 1990s before realizing claustrophobia “probably wouldn’t bode well in a spaceship.”

As one of the foremost researchers and clinicians in medical genomics and genetics, Dr. Gibson knows the literal definition of “groundbreaking.” In fact, 15 years ago she could have taken her expertise anywhere in the country. She’d already set up the genetics program for Orlando Health and directed another for Ameripath (before it became Quest Diagnostics). But in 2008 she chose to take all her expertise to an empty field in Lake Nona.

“There was nothing but dirt, bulldozers and cows,” Dr. Gibson says of the site that would become UCF’s College of Medicine. “We didn’t even have running water. But that’s what excited us: we had a blank slate to create something extraordinary.”

Dr. Gibson’s mother always encouraged her to “shoot for the stars,” to look beyond what is and see what could be. Instead of seeing a field of cows and the shell of a building, Dr. Gibson and half a dozen other doctors envisioned the home of a world-class medical center. There would be a hospital, labs and freedom to extend the boundaries of medical science. Most important, there would be students with equally big dreams.

“It comes down to this: We want to expose them to the latest discoveries and technologies of a precision medicine and genomics era and then send them into the world to make lives better,” Dr. Gibson says.

She doesn’t simply talk about discoveries in genomics and precision medicine. She makes them. Her dad did the same thing as a plant geneticist. Dr. Gibson would watch him crossbreed vegetables to find more resilient varieties in his greenhouses. Early in her career, Dr. Gibson attended a conference in Colorado and happened to sit around a campfire with Mary-Claire King, who said she’d been researching how breast cancer and ovarian cancer ran in families. Her groundbreaking research is now legendary: A mutation of the gene called BRCA1, which causes hereditary breast cancer and is now tested along with other genes as a standard of patient care

“The genetic cause of cancer was mostly unproven at the time,” Dr. Gibson says. “But right after that, the field just exploded. Now we use the genomic testing every day in patient care. I’m blessed to have been on the leading edge of it.”

It all fits her decision to choose a pasture over an established institution 15 years ago. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” she says, quoting a verse that directs her life. Dr. Gibson and her colleagues consider the College of Medicine a gift to the Orlando community. From it, as of this year, more than 1,000 graduates have gone out to advance research and to care for patients who need something more tangible than a ray of hope: they need smart practitioners.

A week before learning she had been selected as a 2023 Pegasus Professor, Dr. Gibson went to a doctor’s appointment — this time as a patient. In the office, she saw a reminder of why she chose this path: a former student, now a doctor, making lives better in our community.

“That’s what we envisioned when we entered uncharted waters,” Dr. Gibson says, “and it still inspires me every day.”

For full story on UCF’s Pegasus Professors click here.

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