Dr. Leigh A. Neumayer, a well-known breast cancer surgeon, has been named head of the University of Arizona Department of Surgery, UA officials announced Tuesday.

The news means Dr. Rainer Gruessner‘s chances of getting his job back as the head of surgery at the UA just got worse.

Neumayer, who will earn $725,000, will be the first-ever female head of surgery at the UA. She is scheduled to begin her new role on Aug. 18, officials said.

She was also named the Margaret E. and Fenton L. Maynard Endowed Chair in breast cancer research at the UA Cancer Center.

Dr. Alexander G. Chiu has been serving as acting head of surgery since September 2013 when Gruessner, who makes $771,334 per year, was suspended with pay.

Gruessner, who continues to receive his salary, is in the midst of a legal battle to get his job back.

Neumayer currently serves as professor of surgery and vice chair for academic affairs at the University of Utah School of Medicine Department of Surgery, and is co-director of the multidisciplinary team treating breast cancer at the University of Utah Health Care’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Her clinical practice focuses on diseases of the breast, and breast cancer in particular.

Gruessner had been head of surgery since 2007, and is credited with expanding and improving the department.

He was suspended in September following an accusation that he’d been connected to altering transplant records. He has since received notices of termination, and has filed an $18.96 million notice of claim against the university citing breach of contract, defamation and deprivation of civil rights.

If the UA reinstates him as head of surgery and pays his attorneys’ fees, Gruessner will drop the claim, the document says. So far, Gruessner has paid nearly $250,000 in legal costs, the claim says.

On March 7, Pima County Superior Court Judge Carmine Cornelio found that University Physicians Healthcare, which staffs the UA Medical Center with doctors from the UA, had denied Gruessner due process before firing him, and ordered an independent hearing where Gruessner can argue his case.

Cornelio also found a “substantial likelihood” that the accusations of record-altering “may not be found to be entirely accurate.”

In addition to being surgery head, Gruessner was the surgical director of the UA Medical Center’s transplant program. Since his departure, transplant services have significantly declined. Two transplant programs that Gruessner started have closed.

Gruessner declined comment on Tuesday.

Neumayer has participated in many national clinical research trials, and recently implemented a local trial to determine the effect of a week of hormone-blocking therapy on breast cancer cells.

Currently, she is co-investigator on two other studies, including a National Institutes of Health grant to study noninvasive, MRI-guided, high-intensity-focused ultrasound for breast cancer therapy.

In addition, she has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and book chapters. She is author of the book “Meet Virginia: Biography of a Breast,” which pictorially chronicles a patient’s journey through her breast cancer surgery.

Neumayer has lived in Tucson before. She completed her general surgery residency training at the UA in 1990 and served for two years on the faculty.

She earned her medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and her Master of Science degree in clinical research design and statistical analysis from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at sinnes@azstarnet.com or 573-4134.