April 28, 2008

Barbara A. Baird, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '78-'80) and Judith Lieberman, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '84-'87) were 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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April 15, 2008

The 2008 recipients of the prestigious Gairdner International Award were announced today.  We congratulate Victor R. Ambros, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Award Committee Member) of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, and Gary B. Ruvkun, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Award Committee Member '01-'05) of Harvard Medical School, Boston, who received the award for their groundbreaking discoveries of microRNAs and their functions.

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April 14, 2008

Tyler E. Jacks, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, has been named president-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).  His laboratory has engineered a series of novel, mutant mouse strains that accurately mimic human cancer and thus serve as animal models for exploring the cellular pathways regulated by cancer-associated genes.

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April 10, 2008

Howard Y. Chang, MD, PhD (Kenneth G. and Elaine A. Langone Scholar of the Damon Runyon Foundation '06-'08 and Fellowship Sponsor) and colleagues at Stanford University, Stanford, reported the use of a gene module map to compare gene expression profiles of embryonic stem cells (ESCs), normal adult stem cells, and human cancers.  The ESC profile is activated in certain cancers and is marked by activation of the oncogene c-Myc.  The researchers were able to generate cancer stem cells from normal skin cells by activating c-Myc in combination with Ras and IkBa; these cells formed tumors when transplanted into mice.  These findings are significant, as they provide insight into how cells become cancerous and could lead to new approaches for cancer prevention and treatment.  

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April 9, 2008

Ivan Maillard, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'07) and colleagues at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, discovered that the Notch signaling pathway is not required for the maintenance of adult blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells.  This has important implications because clinical trials are ongoing to test anti-Notch drugs in treatment of metastatic breast cancer; these drugs would attack cancer stem cells but, according to these data, would not damage normal hematopoietic stem cells.  This work was published in the April 10 issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

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April 8, 2008

Kathryn M. Ferguson, PhD (Dennis and Marsha Dammerman Scholar of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation '06-'08) and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, worked in collaboration with researchers at Merck Serono Research in Germany to examine the molecular basis for therapeutic antibodies targeting certain tumors.  They studied antibodies that block the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), thus stopping cell proliferation and tumor growth.  One such therapeutic antibody is Erbitux, a colorectal and head and neck cancer drug.  An additional drug called matuzumab is in phase II clinical trials.  In the April 8 issue of Cancer Cell, the researchers reported the use of X-ray crystallography to show that matuzumab interacts with and blocks EGFR by a mechanism separate from that of Erbitux.  Both therapeutic antibodies can bind to EGFR at the same time, suggesting that a combination therapy could be developed for even more effective targeting and blocking of EGFR.

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April 3, 2008

Anders M. Näär, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '95-'98 and Scholar '03-'05) and colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, reported findings on the mechanism of multidrug resistance in fungi, which could allow development of new treatments for the opportunistic fungal infections that often affect immunocompromised patients, such as those receiving chemotherapy, transplant recipients treated with immunosuppressive drugs, and AIDS patients.  The researchers showed that zinc-cluster transcription-factor family Pdr1p proteins bind directly to numerous anti-fungal drugs, leading to induction of multidrug resistance.  Their work was published in in the April 3 issue of Nature.

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March 31, 2008

A team of researchers led by Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD (Innovation Committee Member) at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, developed a new high-resolution molecular imaging technique called Raman spectroscopy.  Tiny gold nanoparticles are injected into a living animal and then visualized with a special microscope.  The technique will be optimized for use in humans, where it can be applied to more precise detection and surgical removal of cancerous tissues.  Their work was published in the March 31 advance online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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March 27, 2008

Helen Piwnica-Worms, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '84-'85 and Fellowship Award Committee Member '04-'07) has been named the first Gerty T. Cori Professor at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis.  The Professorship is named in honor of Gerty T. Cori, the first female scientist to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine (1947) for studies on the control of sugar metabolism.  Dr. Piwnica-Worms' research focuses on how the human cell cycle is regulated and how perturbations in cell cycle control contribute to human cancer.

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March 21, 2008

A team of researchers led by Azad Bonni, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '96-'97) at the Harvard Medical School, Boston, discovered a new signaling mechanism for cell death regulation.  They found that the cyclin-dependent kinase Cdk1 phosphorylates the transcription factor FOXO1 in postmitotic neurons of the brain, and that this phosphorylation event leads to cell death.  This finding is significant, as misregulation of cell death can lead to the overproliferation that gives rise to cancer.  Their work was published in the recent issue of the journal Science.

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March 20, 2008

Gigi Lozano, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Award Committee Member) at Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, and colleagues discovered that a protein called MTBP (Mdm2-binding protein) regulates the tumor suppressor p53.  They generated mice in which the MTBP and p53 genes are disrupted; these mice developed more metastatic tumors than mice in which either gene was disrupted individually.  In vitro studies demonstrated that reduced expression of MTBP gives rise to increased tumor cell invasiveness, suggesting that MTBP is important for suppression of metastasis.  The researchers will next examine MTBP expression in human cancers to pursue the possibility that this protein could be a novel therapeutic target for control of metastasis.  This work was published in the March 20 issue of Oncogene.

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March 17, 2008

The work of John L. Rinn, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'07) and Howard Y. Chang, MD, PhD (Kenneth G. and Elaine A. Langone Scholar of the Damon Runyon Foundation '06-'08 and Fellowship Sponsor) at Stanford University, Stanford, on cell positional identity is discussed in an article entitled "Regrowing Limbs: Can People Regenerate Body Parts?" in the March issue of Scientific American.

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March 14, 2008

Martine F. Roussel, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Award Committee Member) and colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, and The Rockefeller University, New York, discovered that the proteins BMP2, BMP4 and BMP7, halted the growth of medulloblastoma tumors and induced the malignant cells to develop into normal neurons.  Medulloblastoma is a rare but often fatal childhood brain tumor.  These findings could lead to effective new treatments for this disease.  The work was published in the March 15 issue of Genes & Development.  

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March 13, 2008

Cancer patients from the Southeastern United States treated with the drug Erbitux (a monoclonal antibody approved for use in colon cancer and squamous-cell head and neck cancer) are more likely to suffer severe life-threatening allergic reactions than patients in other regions of the country.  Researchers led by Christine H. Chung, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '05-'10) at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, discovered that this allergic reaction is triggered by sugar molecules that are added during the production of the drug.  Steps can now be taken to avoid these life-threatening allergic reactions: manufacturers can alter the drug production process, and an assay is being developed to prescreen patients for susceptibility to allergic reaction.  It is not yet clear how geographic location is linked to this drug allergy.  These findings were published in the March 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine

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In the March 13 issue of Nature, Matthew G. Vander Heiden, MD, PhD (Mel Karmazin Fellow of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation '06-'09) and colleagues at Harvard Medical School, Boston, published results that address an eighty-year-old observation: that cancer cells perform energy metabolism in a way that is different from normal adult cells.  The researchers showed that this unique form of metabolism is essential for tumors’ rapid growth, and identified the M2 form of pyruvate kinase (PKM2), an enzyme involved in sugar metabolism, as an important factor regulating this process.  This work suggests a novel strategy to treat cancer by targeting the cancer form of the enzyme and interrupting the changes in metabolism which appear necessary for cancer cells to grow.

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March 12, 2008

Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '00-'05) and colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, reported that there are distinct sets of risk factors for head and neck cancers.  They found that marijuana use and certain sexual behaviors increase the risk of human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive head and neck cancer, whereas tobacco smoking, alcohol use, and poor oral hygiene increase the risk of HPV-negative disease.  These data suggest that HPV-positive and HPV-negative head and neck cancers may be two different types of the disease.  Their results were published in the March 12 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.  

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March 11, 2008

Joseph R. Bertino, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member) at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, is the recipient of the 13th Annual AACR-Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievements in Clinical Research.  He is being honored for his influential contributions to the field of cancer chemotherapy and development of novel cancer therapeutics. He has led the way in translating basic science into the clinic.

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March 7, 2008

Three Damon Runyon alumni are recipients of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Clinical Scientist Awards in Translational Research for 2008.  These awards are designed to support established, independent physician-scientists who are dedicated to translational research and mentoring physician-scientist trainees.  We congratulate William M. Grady, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '02-'07) of the University of Washington, Seattle, Theodora S. Ross, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar '01-'03) of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Edus H. Warren, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '00-'05) of the University of Washington, Seattle, on their continued success.

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In the latest issue of the journal Cell, Andrew G. Dillin, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '99-'01 and Fellowship Award Committee Member) and colleagues at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, discovered that the nematode C. elegans has a unique form of protective chromosome ends (telomeres) not found in mammals.  The researchers also identified two single-stranded DNA-binding proteins that regulate telomere stability.  These findings are significant because telomere length has been linked to genome instability and cancer.  

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March 2, 2008

Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '77 and Board Member) and colleagues at The Rockefeller University, New York, reported that a specific microRNA (miR-203) has an essential role in regulating skin stem cell proliferation.  miR-203 is expressed in certain skin cells, stratified epithelial tissues, where it suppresses the proliferation-promoting factor p63.  Because p63 is often overexpressed in cancer cells, these findings have an important significance to cancer.  The researchers plan to investigate whether low expression of miR-203 is linked to skin cancers and whether replacing miR-203 can then inhibit cancer cell growth.  This work was published in the prestigious journal Nature

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February 28, 2008

The San Francisco Business Journal has published a story on new funding for medical research by young scientists, with a focus on the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award.

Summary of article: Innovators, like the retired co-founder of Benchmark Capital, Andy Rachleff, and organizations such as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), are making headlines as they push for new approaches to grant-making.  Despite the former focusing on cancer and the latter on stem cells, they share one common goal:  to "keep young researchers focused on novel technologies and treatments."  The Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award, a new award program, launched in 2007 with funding from Andy Rachleff, grants young scientists with high-risk/high-reward approaches to cancer research.  Similarly, CIRM funds scientists who are just beginning their careers as faculty members or independent investigators.  The current mindset in grant-making, propelled by the NIH, is to focus on low-risk projects leaving little money for high-risk research.  However, Dr. Ron Levy, Chief of the Division of Oncology at Stanford University and Chair of the Innovation Award Selection Committee for the Damon Runyon Foundation, notes that such approaches stifle out-of-the-box thinking.

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February 25, 2008

Researchers led by Li Li, MD, PhD, (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '01-'06) of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, reported the results of an ecological evaluation showing that high carbohydrate intake and obesity can partially account for the rise in esophageal cancer from 1973-2001.  These findings were published in the recent issue of The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

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