February 21, 2008
Two Damon Runyon scientists were awarded prestigious international prizes from the Kirk A. and Dorothy P. Landon Foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Arnold J. Levine, PhD, (Former Damon Runyon Board Member, Fellowship Award Committee Member '86 and Fellowship Sponsor) was awarded the Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for Basic Cancer Research for his work defining p53 as a tumor suppressor, which has been critical in our understanding of cancer on the molecular level. John Mendelsohn, MD, (Damon Runyon Grantee '72-'74 and Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member '00-'07) was awarded the Dorothy P. Landon-AACR Prize for Translational Cancer Research for his work leading to the development of anti-EGF receptor monoclonal antibody, which inhibits cancer cell growth and is today used to effectively treat multiple types of advanced cancers.
February 15, 2008
Researchers led by Azad Bonni, MD, PhD, (Damon Runyon Fellow '96-'97) at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and Ronald A. DePinho, MD, (Fellowship Award Committee Member '03-'06 and Fellowship Sponsor) at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported studies on the role of the transcription factor STAT3 in glioblastoma brain cancer. They showed that STAT3 can promote or suppress cancer depending on the mutational profile of the tumor: when the gene EGFR is mutated, STAT is an oncogene, but when PTEN is mutated, STAT3 is a tumor suppressor. This provides the basis for tailored therapeutics in glioblastoma treatment.
Phillip G. Febbo, MD, (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '05-'10) and colleagues from Duke University, Durham, reported a novel method for integrating multiple microarray datasets to predict gene pathways underlying cancer. These analyses were applied to tumor progression of prostate cancer and melanoma and led to the discovery of a connection between ErbB4 and primary prostate cancer. The researchers plan to apply this analysis method to other cancer types as well, which may lead to identification of new biomarkers and a better understanding of genes involved in cancer development.
Researchers led by Thomas J. Kipps, MD (Damon Runyon Fellow '57) at the Moores Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego, used a gene therapy protocol in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients to induce an immune response specific to a leukemia-associated surface antigen, ROR1. Several of the patients in this trial made antibodies that reacted with their own leukemia cells. The ROR1 antigen is found on all the leukemia cells of CLL patients but is not detected on normal cells; therefore, treatments targeting ROR1 should be highly specific for cancer cells and should not have the harmful side effect of harming normal cells. This work was published in the February 19 issue of the Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences.
László Kürti, PhD, (Damon Runyon Fellow '07-'10) received the prestigious American Association of Publishers (AAP) Award for his book "Molecules and Medicine," written with co-authors E.J. Corey and Barbara Czako. The book was named the Best of the Physical Sciences and Mathematics for 2007 by the AAP Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division. The book describes the discovery, application and mode of action for over one hundred molecules used in modern medicine.
February 14, 2008
Philip A. Cole, MD, PhD, (Damon Runyon Scholar '97-'98) and colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, reported the 3D structure of the p300/CBP histone acetyltransferase (HAT), a transcription factor that regulates gene expression through acetylation of DNA-bound histones. p300/CBP activates a wide variety of genes, and its misregulation contributes to pancreatic, colon, lung, and thyroid cancers, as well as some leukemias; there is also a possibility of its involvement in HIV pathogenesis. The structure, combined with other biochemical data, allows the researchers to propose a model for the mechanism of p300/CBP action and may lead to the development of inhibitors of its activity. This work was published in the February 14 issue of Nature.
February 13, 2008
Ray Wu, PhD, (Damon Runyon Fellow '55 and Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, passed away at the age of 79. In 1970, Dr. Wu developed the first method for sequencing DNA, which became the basis for the techniques used to complete the human genome as well as other genomes. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Wu and colleagues pioneered genetic engineering of rice and other crops to generate high yield strains that were also resistant to pests and drought. In addition, he was a scientific adviser to the governments of both China and Taiwan and was highly influential in developing US-Chinese cooperation in science and education.
February 7, 2008
Ercole L. Cavalieri, PhD, (Damon Runyon Fellow '68) and colleagues from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, published findings that endogenous carcinogens can be detected in urine samples by tandem mass spectrometry. Certain estrogen metabolites can interact with DNA, forming mutagenic estrogen-DNA adducts that can lead to cell transformation and the initiation of breast cancer. These compounds were analyzed in urine samples, and researchers found that a higher ratio of DNA adducts to estrogen metabolites correlated with increased breast cancer risk. These estrogen-DNA adducts are a potential biomarker for early detection of breast cancer risk and for assessment of preventative treatments. These data were published in the International Journal of Cancer.
February 1, 2008
In the February 1 issue of the journal Science, Gregory J. Hannon, PhD, (Damon Runyon Fellow '92-'94, Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor and Innovation Award Committee Member) of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, and Stephen J. Elledge, PhD, (Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues describe a novel screening system using short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) to identify genes important for cell proliferation and survival in mammalian cell lines. They compared normal, breast and colon cancer cell lines, and found that there were genes that, when disrupted, harm cancer cells but not normal cells. Their work allows for genome-wide screening to identify genes that are selectively required for cancer proliferation and survival. These are ideal potential targets for drug discovery.
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, reported that expression of the homeobox gene HOXA13 is required to maintain distal cell fate in adult fibroblasts. The establishment and maintenance of positional identity is essential, as misregulation of cell fate can give rise to cancer. This work, published in the February 1 issue of Genes and Development, was done in collaboration with Roel Nusse, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor).
A recent epidemiological study by Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD, (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '00-'05) of The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and colleagues at the National Cancer Institute, demonstrated a significant increase in human papillomavirus (HPV)-related oral cancers from 1973 to 2004, particularly in men. HPV causes cervical cancer in women, and immunization programs are now being instituted to vaccinate young women against strains of HPV with the drug Gardasil. Studies are ongoing to test effectiveness of Gardasil in prevention of other HPV-related diseases, such as oral, anal, and penile cancers and genital warts. These results were published in the February 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
In a separate study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Gillison and colleagues reported that patients with HPV-positive head and neck cancer had higher response rates to chemoradiation therapy than those with HPV-negative tumors, as well as improved two-year overall and progression-free survival.
January 31, 2008
Robert A. Weinberg, PhD, (Scholar Award Review Panel Member) of MIT, Cambridge, was named the first recipient of a new Swedish science prize established by the foundation set up by scientists Georg and Eva Klein. Dr. Weinberg was recognized for his pioneering cancer research: discovery of the first human oncogene, Ras, that causes normal cells to form tumors, and of the first known tumor suppressor gene, Rb. He will spend two weeks at Stockholm's Karolinska Institutet, which awards the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, to give lectures and forge links with other researchers.
Keith R. Yamamoto, PhD, (Fellowship Award Committee Member '77-'81) of the University of California, San Francisco, was selected to join the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The members of the Committee play an essential advisory role in the planning, management and coordination of NIH programs to support biomedical research and research training.
January 25, 2008
Valerie Horsley, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'07), Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '77 and Board Member), and colleagues at The Rockefeller University, New York, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, reported the discovery that NFATc1, a transcription factor, blocks proliferation in skin stem cells of the hair follicle through repression of the cell cycle gene CDK4. They demonstrated that NFATc1 expression is activated by BMP and calcium signaling, and that suppression of this signaling leads to premature activation of stem cells. As cancer arises from unregulated cell proliferation, this finding has important implications for understanding new protein targets for treatment of skin cancer (as well as for treatment of hair loss). Their work was published in the January 25 issue of the journal Cell.
January 11, 2008
In the January 11 issue of the journal Science, Peter A. Savage, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '01-'04) and colleagues at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, reported that an endogenous histone H4 peptide is specifically recognized by tumor-infiltrating CD8+ T lymphocytes in a primary mouse model of prostate cancer. This work will be critical for learning more about the T cell response to cancer and for the development of immunotherapies for the treatment of malignancy. In addition, the researchers are currently conducting studies to determine whether the presence of these histone H4-reactive T cells in the blood could be used as a diagnostic marker for the early detection of prostate cancer in humans. The majority of this research was completed in the laboratory of James P. Allison, PhD.
January 1, 2008
Joseph A. Califano, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '01-'06) and colleagues at The Johns Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center, Baltimore, reported the groundbreaking success of their DNA-based saliva test for head and neck cancer. The researchers identified seven hypermethylated genes within saliva rinses, which were the best predictors of cancer, correctly identifying it in over 40% of patients tested with the disease and accurately ruling it out in over 80% of healthy patients. This technique could allow for earlier detection of head and neck cancer, the seventh-most-common cancer in the United States, with over 45,000 new diagnoses each year. Dr. Califano’s work was published in the January 1 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.