May 28, 2009 > Cancer cells need normal, non-mutated genes to survive

Michael J. Emanuele, PhD (Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., MD, Fellow ‘08-‘11) and colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, used genome-wide RNA interference to turn down expression of normal cellular proteins in cancer cells.  They found that these particular cancer cells depend on many normal proteins to survive; however, normal cells can tolerate a reduction in the levels of these proteins.  Development of drug cocktails that target these proteins might be a promising approach to treating cancer.  This research was conducted in the laboratory of Stephen J. Elledge, PhD, and published in the journal Cell.

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May 26, 2009 > New antiangiogenic agents discovered

László Kürti, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘07-‘10) of Harvard University, Cambridge, reported the development of several new potent compounds that inhibit angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels that is important both for normal processes such as wound-healing as well as for certain diseases including cancer.  As these compounds are water-soluble and appear to be non-toxic, they may be effective for treatment of cancer and other angiogenesis-based diseases.  These findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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May 26, 2009 > Low-carbohydrate diet may slow prostate tumor growth

Phillip G. Febbo, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘05-‘10) of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, and colleagues reported the results of a study comparing prostate tumor growth in mice fed diets with differing amounts of carbohydrates.  Animals that were fed a no-carbohydrate diet survived 40 to 50 percent longer than the mice fed a higher carbohydrate diet.  The researchers will begin recruiting patients for a clinical trial to determine if restricting carbohydrates in patients with prostate cancer can similarly slow tumor growth.  This report was published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

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May 26, 2009 > CIP2A protein is associated with gastric cancer

Melissa R. Junttila, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘07-‘10) of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues examined gastric cancer tissue specimens for expression of a protein called CIP2A.  They found that expression of the protein was associated with reduced overall survival in patients.  CIP2A depletion led to decreased proliferation and cell growth, as well as to reduced stability and expression of the oncogenic MYC protein.  CIP2A and MYC appear to be regulated in a positive feedback loop: they promote each other’s expression and, thus, gastric cancer cell proliferation.  This pathway may be a promising target for cancer therapeutics.  These findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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May 19, 2009 > A critical role for immune system signaling in cancer progression

Albert C. Koong, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘02-‘07), Peter P. Lee, MD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘01-‘03) and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, investigated the role of interferon (IFN) signaling - a key component of the immune system - in the development of cancer.  In this study, the researchers measured IFN signaling in lymphocyte immune cells from patients with breast cancer, melanoma and gastrointestinal cancer.  IFN signaling in cancer patients was defective in comparison to healthy patients.  These findings, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may explain why many patients’ immune systems do not attack their own cancer.

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May 14, 2009 > Patients with HPV-positive head and neck cancer have improved prognosis

Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05) of The Ohio State University, Cleveland, reported the results of a phase III clinical trial examining survival of patients with head and neck cancer.  87 percent of patients with HPV (human papillomavirus)-positive tumors were alive four years later, compared to 67 percent of those whose with HPV-negative tumors did not contain the virus.  In the future, clinical trials will be stratified by HPV status and will be designed specifically for HPV-positive or -negative patients.  These findings were presented at the ASCO annual meeting.

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May 8, 2009 > 2009 Searle Scholars Named

John L. Rinn, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘09-‘11 and Damon Runyon Fellow ‘05-‘07) of Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute, Boston, is one of fifteen Searle Scholars named for 2009.  The prestigious Searle Scholars Program supports the independent research of exceptional young faculty in the biomedical sciences and chemistry.

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May 7, 2009 > Genes Identified in Breast Cancer Spread to the Brain

Don X. Nguyen, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘05-‘08), in the lab of Joan Massagué, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee Member), at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, identified three genes that specifically mediate the metastasis, or spread, of breast cancer to the brain.  Two of the genes are COX2 and HB-EGF, which induce cancer cell mobility and invasiveness; these genes were previously linked to breast cancer metastasis to the lungs.  A third gene, ST6GALNAC5, enables cancer cells to exit the circulating blood and pass through the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain tissue.  These findings were published in the scientific journal Nature.

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May 5, 2009 > Former Fellows Named Kimmel Scholars

Two Former Damon Runyon Fellows were part of the group of twelve exceptional, young cancer researchers selected to receive the 2009 Kimmel Scholar Award: Danica Galonic Fujimori, PhD (Rebecca Ridley Kry Fellow of the Damon Runyon Foundation ‘05-‘07), University of California, San Francisco, and Zefeng Wang, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘03-‘06), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  These two-year grants are intended to further advance the budding careers of the recipients.

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May 4, 2009 > Could Cialis Help Treat Cancer?

Scientific American reported that a team led by former Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator Joseph A. Califano, III, MD, is exploring whether Cialis, currently marketed as an erectile dysfunction drug, could function as a treatment for head and neck cancer.  Head and neck cancer is particularly lethal because it restrains immune cells from attacking tumors.  Cialis has been found to reverse this effect, enabling immune cells to attack the cancer.  These findings were presented at the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Clinical Investigator Symposium, held at The New York Academy of Sciences Conference Center in New York City on April 27th.

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A large number of head and neck cancers are caused by the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), according to research by former Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD, who also presented at the Symposium.

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May 4, 2009

Technology Review, published by MIT, featured the work of Pierre P. Massion, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) and his mentor David P. Carbone, MD, at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee.  The article, “Better Detection of Lung Cancer,” describes their advances in identifying biomarkers that can be used to improve lung cancer diagnosis through a non-invasive blood test.

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April 28, 2009

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, 19 members of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation circle were inducted this April:

DAMON RUNYON FELLOWS
Neal G. Copeland, PhD (Fellow ‘77 and Former Sponsor) Executive Director, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Proteos, Singapore
Jay C. Dunlap, PhD (Fellow ‘80-‘82) Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover
Juli Feigon, PhD (Fellow ‘82-‘85) Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California-Los Angeles
Baldomero M. Olivera, PhD (Fellow ‘66) Distinquished Professor, Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City

DAMON RUNYON COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Marian B. Carlson, PhD (Fellowship Award Committee Member ‘92-‘96) Professor, Department of Genetics and Development, Columbia University, New York
Ralph R. Isberg, PhD (Fellowship Award Committee Member ‘00-‘03) Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, Tufts University Medical School, Boston
Tyler Jacks, PhD (Current Fellowship Award Committee Member and Current Sponsor) Professor of Biology and Director, Center for Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
Kevan M. Shokat, PhD (Current Innovation Award Committee Member and Scholar Panelist ‘05) Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco

DAMON RUNYON FELLOWSHIP SPONSORS
Rafi Ahmed, PhD
, Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta
Sarah C. Hake, PhD
, Adjunct Professor, Plant Gene Expression Center, University of California, Berkeley
Douglas Hanahan, PhD
, Professor of Biochemistry, Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, San Francisco
Rakesh K. Jain, PhD
, Professor and Director, Edwin L. Steele Laboratory, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
Mu-ming Poo, PhD
, Paul Licht Distinguished Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley
G. Shirleen Roeder, PhD
, Professor of Biology, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven
John W. Sedat, PhD, Professor, Department of Genetics, University of California, San Francisco
Eric Siggia, PhD, Professor, Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, The Rockefeller University, New York
Paul W. Sternberg, PhD, Professor of Biology, Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena
Jonathan S. Weissman, PhD, Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, University of California, San Francisco
S. Lawrence Zipursky, PhD
, Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry, University of California, Los Angeles

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April 24, 2009 > Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research Awarded

Ralph M. Steinman, MD (Clinical Investigator Mentor) of The Rockefeller University, New York, Charles A. Dinarello, MD, of the University of Colorado Denver, and Bruce Beutler, MD, of The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, have been named the 2009 recipients of the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research.  The $500,000 Prize is the largest award in medicine or science in the United States.  They were recognized for their groundbreaking discoveries in the field of immunology.

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April 22, 2009 > New Biomarker for Aggressive Leukemia Identified

Thomas J. Kipps, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘82), and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, identified a potential new biomarker to predict the aggressiveness of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of adult leukemia.  They found that high levels of an enzyme (PDE7B) in the blood correspond to an aggressive form of CLL.  PDE7B also functions in the development of CLL and may be a promising target for new drugs to treat the disease.  These results were presented at the 2009 AACR Annual Meeting.

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April 20, 2009

Tyler Jacks, PhD (Fellowship Award Committee Member and Fellowship Sponsor) of MIT, Cambridge, was inaugurated as president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) at the AACR Annual Meeting in Denver.  Dr. Jacks’ laboratory has engineered a series of novel animal models that accurately mimic human cancer and thus serve as valuable tools for exploring the cellular pathways regulated by cancer-associated genes.

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award Committee Member and Fellowship Sponsor) of the University of California, San Francisco, was named president-elect of AACR.  She will succeed Tyler Jacks, PhD, as president of the organization in 2010.  Her research focuses on the role of telomeres in cancer and aging.

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Sean B. Carroll, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘83-‘85), Anjana Rao, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘79-‘81)  and Gary B. Ruvkun, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Award Committee Member ‘01-‘05) 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 16, 2009 > A Mechanism for TET Protein Function in Hematologic Cancers

Anjana Rao, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘79-‘81) of Harvard Medical School and Immune Disease Institute, Boston, reported that TET1 is an enzyme that regulates methylation, a chemical modification of DNA that affects gene expression.  Mutations in the TET genes have been reported in association with several hematologic (blood) cancers: a fusion of TET1 with the MLL gene (histone methyltransferase) has been identified in several cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and TET2 has been suggested to have a tumor suppressor function.  These researchers plan to test the involvement of TET proteins in cancer initiation and progression.  These findings were published in the journal Science.

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April 14, 2009

The following Damon Runyon scientists were selected for 2009 AACR Scientific Achievement Awards to recognize their significant contributions to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer:

Napoleone Ferrara, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award Committee Member) of Genentech, Inc., South San Francisco; Pezcoller Foundation–AACR International Award for Cancer Research for his work on the role of VEGF in tumor angiogenesis

Todd R. Golub, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award Committee Member, Board Member, Former Clinical Investigator Mentor, and Former Fellowship Sponsor) of the Broad Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston; AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award for his work on genomics in cancer

Joan Massagué, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee Member and Sponsor) of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York; AACR G.H.A. Clowes Memorial Award for his work on TGF-ß in cancer

John D. Potter, MD, PhD (Former Clinical Investigator Mentor) of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington, Seattle; AACR-American Cancer Society Award for Research Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention for his work on chemoprevention

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April 13, 2009

The 2009 recipients of the prestigious Gairdner International Award were announced today.  We congratulate Richard M. Losick, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Award Committee Member ‘99-‘03) of Harvard University, Cambridge; Lucille Shapiro, PhD (Former Sponsor) of Stanford University, Stanford; and Peter Walter, PhD (Former Sponsor) of the University of California, San Francisco, who received the award.

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April 12, 2009 > New, Highly Sensitive Method for Detection and Analysis of Cancer Proteins

Dean W. Felsher, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, led a study using a new technology (nanofluidic proteomic immunoassay) that allows the analysis of cancer-associated proteins on a very small scale.  The researchers looked at whether each protein is phosphorylated, a subtle chemical modification that affects how proteins function in tumor progression.  They also examined these modifications in response to cancer treatments.  The samples were drawn from mice and humans using a small hollow needle, a fast non-invasive method of collecting sample material in comparison to more invasive surgical biopsies.  This new and highly sensitive method will allow more frequent monitoring of clinical specimens to measure patient response to cancer therapeutics; it will also be useful for development of new drugs.  These findings were published in Nature Medicine.

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March 30, 2009

Johanna Lahdenranta, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘08) and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, described studies demonstrating that the  beneficial effects of anti-angiogenesis drugs in the treatment of a type of brain tumor, glioblastoma, appear to result primarily from reduction of edema – the swelling of brain tissue – and not from any direct anti-tumor effect.  The particular agent tested is the experimental drug cedaranib, which blocks blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) through its inhibition of the protein VEGF.  Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, these findings indicate that anti-VEGF drugs may not be effective treatments for glioblastomas.

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