September 3, 2008

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded 38 EUREKA (Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grants, funding exceptionally innovative research projects that could have an significant impact on many areas of science.  The program is designed to support researchers who are testing novel hypotheses or addressing major methodological challenges in projects generally considered too risky for traditional funding vehicles.  EUREKA researchers will receive approximately $200,000 per year for up to four years.  We congratulate the following Damon Runyon scientists on being awarded EUREKA grants:

Benjamin F. Cravatt, III, PhD (Current Fellowship Award Committee and Sponsor) Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla
Iswar K. Hariharan, MBBS, PhD (Current Sponsor) University of California, Berkeley
John W. Sedat, PhD (Former Sponsor) University of California, San Francisco
C. Erec Stebbins, PhD (Fellow '00-'01) The Rockefeller University, New York
Alexander J. Varshavsky, PhD
(Former Sponsor) California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
Hongkui Zeng, PhD (Fellow '96-'99) Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle

September 2, 2008

David A. Fruman, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '95-'98) of the University of California, Irvine, Kevan M. Shokat, PhD (Innovation Award Committee Member) of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues examined the role of specific PI3 kinase (PI3K) isoforms in pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (pre-B-ALL) caused by the Philadelphia (Ph) chromosome-encoded BCR-ABL oncogene.  They demonstrated that class IA forms of PI3K are required for efficient cell transformation and proliferation.  These cells had increased levels of the protein mTOR and were therefore highly sensitive to the drug rapamycin.  In addition, a dual inhibitor of PI3K and mTOR was even more effective at suppressing growth of leukemia cells.  These findings suggest that class IA PI3K isoforms may be effective targets for treatment of some types of ALL.

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August 28, 2008

Understanding the function of non-coding RNAs in the genome has recently emerged as an important area of study.  An overview of current research in this field is featured in the August 28 issue of the journal Nature.  In this article, the work of John L. Rinn, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'07) of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, Cambridge, is highlighted:  he has discovered a new class of long non-coding RNAs that appear to play critical roles in gene regulation.

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August 19, 2008

Nina V. Fedoroff, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '74 and Former Sponsor) of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, was featured in The New York Times article “An Advocate for Science Diplomacy.”  She is Science and Technology Adviser to US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and is widely recognized for her fundamental contributions to plant genetics.

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Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD (Innovation Award Committee Member) and colleagues at Stanford University, Stanford, developed a mathematical model to be used for predicting tumor size.  They examined levels of certain biomarkers, or proteins in the blood, and determined what levels correlate with particular tumor sizes.  In this study, the researchers tested two known biomarkers:  PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, which is often elevated in prostate cancer, and CA125, which is a marker for ovarian cancer.  These findings may be significant in development of new tests for better early detection of cancer.  The work was published in PLoS Medicine

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August 15, 2008

Edus H. Warren, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '00-'05) and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, reported findings that explain the mechanism of tumor regression in patients with a form of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma, who have been treated with an immunotherapy called allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).  Their studies identified a specific tumor cell antigen (produced by gene C19orf48) that is recognized by CD8 T immune cells; this recognition step enables these T cells to target and attack tumor cells.  This work was published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

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August 1, 2008

Jeremy N. Rich, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '04-'09) of the Duke University Medical Center, Durham, and colleagues reported the essential role of a cell adhesion molecule, L1CAM, in gliomas or brain tumors.  Cancer stem cells are thought to give rise to tumors, and these researchers discovered that L1CAM is required for glioma stem cell survival and growth.  Disruption of L1CAM reduced glioma tumor growth and increased survival of tumor-bearing animals, which suggests that L1CAM may be a promising therapeutic target candidate for treatment of gliomas and other malignant brain tumors.  These results were published in the August 1 issue of the journal Cancer Research.

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July 30, 2008

Chanseok Shin, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'08) and colleagues at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, reported the effects of microRNAs (miRNAs) on gene expression and protein output.  Hundreds of genes were directly repressed by individual miRNAs; these effects were small but widespread.  The researchers demonstrated that miRNAs are regulators that fine-tune protein expression in complex and overlapping patterns.  In addition, they studied miRNA effects on a type of white blood cell called a neutrophil, which plays a role in immune response to infection; these cells are often reduced after chemotherapy and radiotherapy, causing cancer patients to become immunocompromised.  These findings were published in the journal Nature.

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July 28, 2008

Joanna Wysocka, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06) of Stanford University, Stanford, was named one of five Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research and Research Excellence by the W.M. Keck Foundation.  She will receive up to $1 million of funding for her work focusing on the role of chromatin modifications in regulation of cell fate.  The Foundation also recognized five Research Excellence Awardees for their achievements; included in this group is Sarkis K. Mazmanian, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator '08-'10).  He will receive a $25,000 grant.

July 23, 2008

Ronald Levy, MD (Board Member, Innovation Award Committee Chair) and colleagues at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, reported results of a phase-1 trial that showed cancer vaccines produced in tobacco plants were safe for patients and could be produced quickly and cheaply.  Sixteen newly diagnosed lymphoma patients received the treatment; none experienced any side effects from plant-grown vaccines which are meant to vaccinate patients against their malignant cells.  This new technology is fast, cheap and safe, and there is also a possibility that the plant-grown antibodies might prompt a more robust immune response than those made in animal cells.  These results were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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July 18, 2008

Dean W. Felsher, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '03-'08) and colleagues at Stanford University, Stanford, published the results of two separate studies on the function of the cancer-promoting oncogene Myc.  In one study, the researchers examined the role of Myc overexpression in liver cancer.  They demonstrated that in the adult liver, elevated levels of Myc does not by itself promote tumor formation; however, the combination of Myc overexpression and exposure to liver toxins results in tumorigenesis.  In the other study, they described Myc as a “dimmer switch” that can be adjusted to stop cancer growth and shrink tumors.  This represents an advance in the understanding of cancer signals, previously thought to function as “on/off” switches.

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July 9, 2008

The New York Academy of Sciences announced the 16 finalists of the 2008 New York Academy of Sciences Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists, created to celebrate the excellence of the most noteworthy young scientists and engineers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  We congratulate the Damon Runyon scientists honored this year:  faculty finalist Eric C. Lai, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '00-'03), Assistant Member at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York; and postdoctoral finalist Valerie Horsley, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'07), Postdoctoral Fellow at The Rockefeller University, New York.  Each finalist will receive a cash prize of $10,000 in the faculty and $5,000 in the postdoctoral category.  Three of the faculty finalists and two of the postdoctoral finalists will go on to be honored as Blavatnik Award winners in November, receiving an additional $15,000 (faculty) and $10,000 (postdoctoral).

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June 18, 2008

A team led by Cassian Yee, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '01-'06) of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, reported the success of a groundbreaking immunotherapy to treat advanced solid tumor cancer.  They removed CD4+ T immune cells from a patient with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma and then isolated and expanded the subpopulation of these cells that specifically recognizes the melanoma-associated antigen NY-ESO-1, thus prompting the immune cell to target and destroy tumor cells.  These T cells were then infused back into the patient with no additional therapies, and within several months no evidence of tumors remained.  The patient remains disease-free two years later.  This is the first example of immunotherapy being used to successfully treat cancer, without requiring other drugs or chemotherapy.  The researchers will continue testing this therapy in more patients, and if successful, the therapy could in the future be used to treat certain late-stage melanoma patients.  These findings were published in the June 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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June 9, 2008

The drug Nexavar (Sorafenib), a kinase inhibitor, is currently approved for the treatment of patients with unresectable liver cancer and those with advanced kidney cancer.  Marcia S. Brose, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Siemens Clinical Investigator '05-'10) and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, completed a Phase II trial in which they demonstrated that treatment with Nexavar also resulted in significant anti-tumor activity and overall clinical benefit in patients with advanced thyroid cancer.  These results were published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and were reported at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting.

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May 29, 2008

Sarkis K. Mazmanian, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator '08-'10) and colleagues at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, identified a protective sugar molecule, polysaccharide A (PSA), that is produced by the beneficial gut bacterium Bacteroides fragilis.  They exposed mice to a microbe called Helicobacter hepaticus which causes an inflammatory bowel disease similar to Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.  When the mice were treated with PSA or B. fragilis, they were protected from disease.  The researchers went on to show that PSA protected animals by inducing immune cells to express an anti-inflammatory molecule (interleukin-10).  The results suggest that PSA could potentially be developed as a natural therapeutic for inflammatory bowel disease and that the interplay between various types of bacteria living in the intestines has profound effects on human health.  Their work was featured in the May 29 issue of the journal Nature.

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May 28, 2008

Researchers led by Mark A. Lemmon, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '93-'96 and Damon Runyon Scholar '96-'97) at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, have shown how the protein Argos binds growth factors that promote the progression of cancer.  Argos mimics the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) by binding to EGF.  An excess of EGFR signaling triggers tumor formation; however, Argos does not signal cells to grow.  The findings are promising because a drug designed to resemble Argos could bind cancer growth factors like EGF and prevent them from signaling cancer cell growth and were published in the June 26 issue of the magazine Nature.

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May 27, 2008

Twelve members of the Damon Runyon circle were selected to become investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI):

Abby F. Dernburg, PhD (Fellow '96-'99 and Current Sponsor) at the University of California, Berkeley, California
Andrew G. Dillin, PhD (Fellow '99-'01 and Current Fellowship Advisory Committee Member) at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California
Darrell J. Irvine, PhD (Fellow '00-'01) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Grant J. Jensen, PhD (Fellow '00-'02 and Current Sponsor) at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
Scott N. Keeney, PhD (Fellow '94-'97) at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
John V. Moran, PhD (Fellow '95-'97 and Scholar '00-'01) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Dianne K. Newman, PhD (Fellow '98-'99) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Phillip A. Newmark, PhD (Fellow '95-'97 and Scholar '03-'05) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Chanpaign, Urbana, Illinois
David S. Pellman, MD (Scholar '96-'97) at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts
Wilfred A. van der Donk, PhD (Current Fellowship Advisory Committee Member) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Chanpaign, Urbana, Illinois
Michelle D. Wang, PhD (Fellow '95-'97 and Scholar '99-'00) at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Hongtao Yu, PhD (Fellow '95-'98 and Scholar '99-'00) at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas

HHMI chose a total of 56 scientists who represent the nation’s most distinguished and innovative biomedical researchers in their first 4-10 years as faculty members.  HHMI Investigators are widely recognized for their creativity and productivity.

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May 22, 2008

We congratulate Andrew T. Chan, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '08-'11) of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, on receiving the 2008 Young Investigator Award in Clinical Science from the American Gastroenterological Association.  He was selected for the award because of his innovative epidemiological studies of colorectal cancer risk.

May 6, 2008

In the May 6 issue of Cancer Cell, William C. Hahn, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '98-'99) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and colleagues published findings that illuminate the mechanism of breast cancer progression.  An early form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, is localized to milk ducts; when detected and surgically removed, the disease is almost always curable.  However, if left untreated, DCIS can progress to invasive breast cancer.  The researchers found that neighboring myoepithelial cells, which form the lining of the milk ducts, suppress metastasis of DCIS tumor cells.  When certain genes in the myoepithelial cells are disrupted, this lining breaks down and disappears, allowing tumor cells to escape and spread.  This new understanding of the interactions between tumor cells and their surroundings emphasizes the importance of developing therapies that target both the tumor and its microenvironment.

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May 2, 2008

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award Committee Member and Fellowship Sponsor) of the University of California, San Francisco, and Joan A. Steitz, PhD (Damon Runyon Felowship Sponsor) of Yale University, New Haven, were awarded the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, America’s largest prize in medicine.  They are the first women to receive this award and will share the $500,000 prize.  Dr. Blackburn received the award for her groundbreaking discoveries of the molecular nature of telomeres and of the enzyme telomerase.  Dr. Steitz is recognized for her pioneering work in defining the function of small ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) in splicing pre-messenger RNA.  Their findings have greatly impacted our understanding of biological processes and may lead to more effective treatments for a number of diseases, including cancer.

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April 29, 2008

Election to the National Academy of Sciences is one of the highest honors that can be earned by a U.S. scientist.  In recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original biomedical research, 14 members of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation circle were inducted this April:

DAMON RUNYON FELLOWS
Michael R. Botchan, PhD ('72 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Kenneth A. Dill, PhD ('79-'80) Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Biophysics, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of California, San Francisco
Michael E. Greenberg, PhD ('83-'84 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) Professor, Departments of Neurology and Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School, and Director, Division of Neuroscience, Children's Hospital, Boston
Carol L. Prives, PhD ('68, Fellowship Award Committee Member '84-'88, Scholar Award Panel Member '05 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) DaCosta Professor of Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York
Anjana Rao, PhD ('79 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) Professor of Pathology and Senior Investigator, Immune Disease Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston

DAMON RUNYON COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Thomas C. Kaufman, PhD
(Fellowship Award Committee Member '88-'92) Distinguished Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington
Ronald Levy, MD (Board Member, Innovation Award Selection Committee Member, Clinical Investigator Sponsor and Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member '00-'07) Professor of Medicine and Chief, Division of Oncology, Stanford University, Stanford
Jasper D. Rine, PhD (Fellowship Award Committee Member '99-'03 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) Professor of Genetics, Genomics, and Development, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
Gary B. Ruvkun, PhD (Fellowship Award Committee Member '01-'05 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) Professor of Genetics, Department of Molecular Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

DAMON RUNYON FELLOWSHIP SPONSORS
Michael J. Bevan, PhD, Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor, Department of Immunology, University of Washington, Seattle
Michael Grunstein, PhD, Professor of Biological Chemistry, Department of Biological Chemistry, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
Eric N. Jacobsen, PhD, Sheldon Emery Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge
Nancy A. Jenkins, PhD, Deputy Director and Principal Investigator, Cell Cycle Control, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Proteos, Singapore
Peter E. Wright, PhD, Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Investigator, Department of Molecular Biology, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla

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