2006 New Discoveries and Honors in Cancer Research

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Members of the Damon Runyon scientific circle regularly publish findings on the latest cancer research and are frequently recognized for their contributions to the fight against cancer.  Below, you will find new discoveries in cancer research and the most recent honors bestowed upon Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation awardees, alumni and friends.

December 15, 2006

Arshad B. Desai, PhD (Connie and Bob Lurie Damon Runyon Scholar '04-'06) and colleagues reported a major discovery in understanding how cells divide – a process central to the development of cancer.  Dr. Desai is the senior author on two studies published in the prestigious journal Cell describing the "chromosome-spindle" connection, a critical component for the inheritance of genetic information as cells divide.  One publication details a newly identified protein group that pulls apart the two replicas of the duplicated genome during cell division.  The other describes a separate protein complex that helps the cell discriminate between correct and incorrect spindle connections and turns off the pulling process when the connections are incorrect, ensuring that each new cell has the correct number of chromosomes.  These seminal discoveries shed new light on the genesis of cancer and could result in improved cancer therapies.

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December 1, 2006

Andrew G. Dillin, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '99-'01) has been selected to receive the prestigious McKnight Neuroscience of Brain Disorders Award.  This $1.8 million award has been split between six scientists investigating novel therapies for brain diseases.

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November 30, 2006

The NIH announced the first awardees of its new Pathways to Independence Award.  This grant is designed to assist young scientists as they transition from the end of their training as postdocs into their first few years as independent investigators.

Here are the 5 former Damon Runyon Fellows who were awarded:
Daniel A. Colón-Ramos, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06), Stanford University, Stanford
Danica P. Galonic, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'07), Harvard Medical School, Boston
Antonina Roll-Mecak, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06), University of California, San Francisco
Derrick J. Rossi, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06), Stanford University, Stanford
Qiao (Joe) Zhou, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06), Harvard University, Cambridge

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October 17, 2006

Avital Adah Rodal, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06) received a Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her work in defining the role of cellular scaffolding called the actin cytoskeleton in cell growth and movement, critical features of cancer cells.

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October 2, 2006

Terry L. Orr-Weaver, PhD (Damon Runyon Scientific Advisory Committee Member '02-'06), Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the newest American Cancer Society research professor. She was chosen for her numerous contributions to both cancer biology as well as our basic understanding of how cells divide. Dr. Orr-Weaver plans to continue her studies with MEI-S332, a protein she first discovered in flies, which has now been identified at high levels in human breast cancer.

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September 19, 2006

Karla A. Kirkegaard, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '83-'85), Professor and Chair of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, has been selected to receive the Pioneer Award by the Director of the National Institutes of Health.  The award supports exceptionally creative scientists who take innovative approaches to major challenges in biomedical research.  Dr. Kirkegaard will use the $2.5 million, 5-year award to further her work identifying and validating targets for antiviral drugs to fight drug-resistant variants of dengue, West Nile, hepatitis C, and polio viruses.

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August 16, 2006

John Niederhuber, MD (Damon Runyon Grantee '76) was appointed as the 13th Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Niederhuber has been a professor, cancer center director, National Cancer Advisory Board chair, external advisor to the NCI, grant reviewer, and laboratory investigator supported by NCI and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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August 15, 2006

John L. Rinn, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'08) and Howard Y. Chang, MD, PhD (Kenneth G. and Elaine A. Langone Damon Runyon Scholar '06-'08) were featured in Newsday and the New York Times for their discovery of a kind of "blue print" system that defines each cell's position in the body. Future studies with this coordinate system may contribute to our understanding of the wound healing process and may be useful in generating human tissues. Ultimately, these "blue prints" could have a profound impact on how cancer cells are tracked, identifying the spread of tumor cells earlier and more efficiently.

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August 14, 2006

Valerie Horsley, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'07) discovered a new population of stem cells in the skin, shedding light on how stem cells control cell growth. Her findings, reported in the journal Cell, have implications for certain kinds of skin cancers and other disorders like acne.

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August 10, 2006

Alice Tsang Shaw, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'05) was featured in Synergy, the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center newsletter as an "up-and-coming physician-scientist." Dr. Shaw balances her time between caring for patients in the lung cancer clinic and working in the laboratory where she hopes to identify biomarkers to detect the early stages of lung cancer.

August 1, 2006

Madhav Dhodapkar, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '02-'07) reported a new twist on the biology of multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the bone marrow. Dr. Dhodapkar and his research group found that specialized immune cells called dendritic cells enhance the growth of multiple myeloma cells. This discovery reveals a new target for multiple myeloma therapy.

July 21, 2006

Anita G. Seto, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06) and colleagues reported on a new complex of small RNAs, termed piRNAs and regulatory proteins in the prestigious journal Science. While the precise function of this complex is not yet clear, it is likely involved in controlling how certain genes are turned off or "silenced." This discovery has numerous implications for cancer research, as the silencing of cellular brakes called tumor suppressor genes is a critical step cancer development.

July 20, 2006

Joseph A. Califano, III, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '01-'06) and colleagues uncovered a new pathway in the etiology of thyroid cancer. They report that the silencing of cellular brakes or tumor suppressor genes by a process called methylation may be an important step in the progression of this devastating cancer.

July 19, 2006

Meng-Fu Tsou, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'07) used cells from the Xenopus frog to develop a model for studying how genomic instability develops, a molecular hallmark of cancer cells. Dr. Tsou published his findings in the high impact journal Nature.

July 17, 2006

Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '03-'08) and colleagues have isolated rare cancer stem cells that cause leukemia in mouse models of the disease. Contrary to current dogma, Dr. Armstrong's work supports the idea that leukemia stem cells do not have to originate from normal blood stem cells. This is an important finding, because it indicates that normal stem cells can be distinguished from leukemia stem cells and spared during cancer treatment.

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Pardis C. Sabeti, MD, DPhil (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06) completed her medical degree from Harvard Medical School, graduating summa cum laude (the highest honors that the institution can bestow upon a graduate) in recognition of her work to identify and analyze the signatures of natural selection that exist in the human genome. This distinction, which began in 1940, is reserved for the single most deserving student among a graduating class and is not automatically awarded every year. In fact, in nearly two decades, there have been only eight other recipients. According to medical school records, Sabeti is the third woman to graduate summa cum laude since the school admitted its first group of female medical students in 1945. 

July 15, 2006

John V. Heymach, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '04-'09) has provided an expert review on the latest clinical trials with new therapies targeting the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR), a key regulator of growth and survival in a number of tumors including non-small cell lung cancer.

July 3, 2006

Sridhar Mani, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '02-'07) reported on a novel approach to improve and/or restore cancer cell sensitivity to chemotherapy in a publication in Oncogene. Dr. Mani shows that the anti-fungal drug, ketoconazole blocks the expression of multi-drug resistance genes involved in metabolism of many chemotherapies. These results demonstrate a novel strategy to improve chemotherapy action.

June 30, 2006

10 former Damon Runyon Awardees won prestigious Burroughs Wellcome Fund Awards:

Burroughs Wellcome Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences
Karl Mark Ansel, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '01-'04) at Harvard Medical School and the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research, Boston, Massachusetts
Thomas G. Bernhardt, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '02-'04) at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Ohio
Michael D. Blower, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06) at the University of California, Berkeley, California
Leah E. Cowen, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'05) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Mondira Kundu, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '00-'03) at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cheng-Yu Lee, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06) at the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon
Antonina Roll-Mecak, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '03-'06) at the University of California, San Francisco, California
Pardis C. Sabeti, MD, DPhil (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06) at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Burroughs Wellcome Investigators in Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award
Billy Tsai, PhD
(Damon Runyon Fellow '00-'02) at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Burroughs Wellcome Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research
Cassian Yee, MD
(Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '01-'06) at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

June 29, 2006

Michael R. Botchan, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '72-'75 & Former Member of the Scientific Advisory Committee) was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Academy is an international society of scholars that elects to membership men and women of exceptional achievement from varied disciplines including science, scholarship, business, public affairs, and the arts, and conducts a diverse program of projects and studies responsive to the needs and problems of society.

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