2012 New Discoveries and Honors in Cancer Research

2012 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 17, 2012 > Damon Runyon Scientist named to Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” list

Adam de la Zerda, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘11-‘12) of Stanford University, Stanford, was named to the Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” list in Science and Healthcare for 2012. Adam is applying nanotechnology and novel medical imaging to look inside tumors and gather information on cellular changes that drive cancer progression. Those on this list “represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation.”

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November 29, 2012 > Understanding the mechanism of metastasis

Jing Yang, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘00-‘03) and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, demonstrated how cancer cells control a developmental process known as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) to metastasize, breaking free and spreading to other parts of the body, where they proliferate and grow into secondary tumors. The researchers reported that activation of a gene called Twist1 turns on EMT, promoting cancer cell release into blood circulation; EMT must then be turned off once the tumor cells reach new sites in the body to proliferate and form metastases. Their findings suggest that EMT inhibitors may be possible cancer treatments.  This work was published in the journal Cancer Cell.

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November 28, 2012 > New targeted therapy effective in treating resistant leukemias

Frank G. Haluska, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘94-‘96) of ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Cambridge, and colleagues, reported the success of the investigational targeted therapy Ponatinib (AP24534) in treating patients with resistant types of blood cancers, including chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and a subtype of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Ph-positive ALL).  The drug blocks the kinase BCR-ABL, including its mutated form (T315I) which is resistant to existing kinase inhibitor drugs.  In this Phase I trial, nearly all patients responded to treatment.  Ponatinib is a promising new treatment for patients who have no other treatment options.  The Phase I trial results were reported in The New England Journal of Medicine

Updated December 14, 2012: The FDA approved ponatinib (Iclusig) for the treatment of these two forms of drug-resistant leukemia. Approval was based on a single phase II trial, results of which were reported last week at the American Society of Hematology’s annual meeting.

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October 24, 2012 > Aspirin improves survival in colorectal cancer patients with gene mutation

Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues, reported that regular use of aspirin after diagnosis was associated with significantly longer survival in patients with mutated-PIK3CA colorectal cancer, but not among cancer patients without the mutation. The findings suggest that the PIK3CA mutation in colorectal cancer may allow doctors to determine which patients can benefit from aspirin therapy.  The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.   

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October 2, 2012 > 2012 MacArthur Fellows named

Sarkis K. Mazmanian, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘08-‘10) of California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, was named one of 23 MacArthur Fellows for 2012.  He is recognized for his innovative research elucidating the critical role of bacterial microbes in human health, which could lead to new therapies or preventive treatments for a variety of human diseases including cancer.  The MacArthur Fellows Program awards five-year, unrestricted fellowships to individuals across all ages and fields who show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work.   

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October 1, 2012 > 2012 NIH Director’s Early Independence awards

Adam de la Zerda, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘11-‘12) of Stanford University, Stanford, was named one of 14 exceptional junior scientists who will be supported by the NIH Director’s Early Independence award. This program encourages young scientists who have demonstrated outstanding scientific creativity, intellectual maturity, and leadership skills; these scientists have an accelerated career path, in that they either complete an abbreviated postdoctoral fellowship or skip the conventional postdoctoral training period, and move directly to an independent faculty position. Adam plans to develop new medical imaging technologies that can look inside a tumor and gather information on sugar molecules that are essential for cancer progression.   

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September 6, 2012 > ENCODE project results: Encyclopedia of DNA Elements

Mark B. Gerstein, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘94-‘96) of Yale University, New Haven, and colleagues, announced the exciting results of the ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project.  As reported in 30 publications in Nature and other journals, the consortium assigned a biochemical function to over 80% of the human genome—sequences that had previously been thought to be “junk DNA.”  The project was featured in The New York Times.     

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Updated December 21, 2012: ENCODE was selected as one of the “Runners-Up” for Science magazine’s 2012 Breakthrough of the Year. Click here for more.

 

August 23, 2012 > GlcNAc protein modification linked to cancer growth

Linda Hsieh-Wilson, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘97-‘00), of California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, reported that tumor cells modify their proteins through addition of carbohydrate (glycosylation or GlcNAc) in response to their surroundings, which allows the cancer cells to survive.  When the researchers blocked the addition of GlcNAc to phosphofructokinase 1 (PFK1), a protein involved in cell metabolism, cancer cell proliferation and tumor formation were reduced in mice.  This defines a new mechanism for the regulation of metabolic pathways in cancer and a possible target for therapeutic intervention.  The study was published in the journal Science.    

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August 9, 2012 > Ewing sarcoma genome analysis completed

Joshua D. Schiffman, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues, reported results of a genomic study of Ewing sarcoma (ES), the second most common bone tumor in children and young adults.  By examining 40 primary tumors and 12 metastatic lesions, the researchers identified genetic factors predictive of overall survival as well as a particular gene deletion (RELN gene) that is unique to metastatic lesions.  These findings will be useful for development of more effective, personalized treatment regimens.  The report was published in the journal Cancer Genetics.

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August 2, 2012 > Gene copy number linked to testicular cancer

Zsofia K. Stadler, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, led a genomic study of testicular cancer that identified “copy number variations” (CNVs) as a cause of cancer.  Rather than being triggered by a single gene mutation, these tumors can be caused by CNVs (too many or too few copies of a gene).  CNVs occurred spontaneously in 7% of patients with early-onset testicular germ cell tumors.  These findings were published in The American Journal of Human Genetics

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August 1, 2012 > New evidence for cancer stem cells

Luis F. Parada, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘85-‘86) and colleagues at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, used genetic techniques to track cancer cells.  They found that glioblastoma brain cancers contained a small number of stem cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and can give rise to tumor cells.  This study—along with two separate studies conducted independently by other research groups—confirms the existence of cancer stem cells, and the researchers are now searching for ways to kill these cells.  These results were published in the journal Nature.

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August 1, 2012 > Peripheral T-cell lymphoma genome sequenced

Andrew L. Feldman, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘09-‘14), and colleagues at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, reported the completion of the world’s first genome-wide sequencing analysis of peripheral T-cell lymphomas, a highly aggressive cancer of the immune system.  The team found 13 genetic abnormalities, five of which involve genes related to the tumor suppressor p53.  These findings will ultimately be used to improve diagnostic tests and develop targeted treatments for this type of lymphoma.  The study was published in the journal Blood

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July 23, 2012 > Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers announced

Valerie Horsley, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘07) of Yale University, New Haven, and Georgios Skiniotis, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘07) of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, were named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.  Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service.  Valerie studies the role of skin stem cells in wound healing and cancer formation.  Georgios uses electron microscopy to examine the structure of cellular signaling proteins, applying these findings to understand their function in normal development and diseases.     

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June 6, 2012 > New treatment option for rare form of basal cell carcinoma

Jean Y. Tang, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues, reported the success of a newly approved drug, vismodegib /Erivedge, in dramatically shrinking basal cell carcinoma (BCC) skin cancers and preventing new ones from forming in patients with basal cell nevus syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes dozens to thousands of skin cancers on each patient’s body.  The Phase II clinical trial was stopped early because of the overwhelming effectiveness of the drug, which provides the possibility of an alternative treatment to surgical removal.  It blocks the Hedgehog signaling pathway, which is inappropriately activated in BCC as well as other cancer types.  The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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 Updated January 12, 2013: The history of scientific research leading up to development of vismodegib is featured here.

 

June 2, 2012 > Clinical trial success for new immunotherapies in multiple cancer types

Charles G. Drake, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘04-‘09) and colleagues at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, Baltimore, reported the success of two Phase I clinical trials to test  immunotherapy treatments that block the PD-1 protein and the PD-L1 protein, respectively.  The drugs help to restore the immune system’s ability to spot and attack cancer, and have shown promising results in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, and kidney cancer.  Significant tumor shrinkage followed by stable disease was observed in up to 28 percent of patients.  These results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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May 16, 2012 > Drug boosts effectiveness of cancer vaccine

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05) and colleagues at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, reported that the drug daclizumab (Zenapax) improved the survival of breast cancer patients taking a cancer vaccine by 30 percent (seven months), compared to those patients not taking the drug.  Daclizumab, approved for use in preventing transplant rejection, targets Tregs (regulatory T cells) that normally prevent the immune system from detecting and attacking tumors.  The researchers tested the drug in ten patients with metastatic breast cancer prior to giving them an experimental breast cancer vaccine.  The tumors stopped growing in six of these patients.  This drug, in combination with other immunotherapy, may be useful for treatment of other cancer types as well.  These promising results were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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May 9, 2012 > Genetic mutations in melanoma

A team of scientists from the Broad Institute, Cambridge, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, led by Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) and Todd R. Golub, MD (Innovation Award Committee Member, Board Member) sequenced the whole genomes of 25 metastatic melanoma tumors.  Analysis of these sequences indicated that the rates of genetic mutation rose along with chronic sun exposure in patients.  As expected, the scientists detected known mutations in genes that regulate cell growth.  In addition, they also identified mutations in a gene called PREX2 in 44 percent of patients.  The study was published in the journal Nature.   

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May 1, 2012 > 2012 Kimmel Scholars named

The Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research has selected the 2012 recipients for the Kimmel Scholar Program, which was created to advance the careers of gifted, young scientists involved in cancer research. Two of fifteen 2012 awards were granted to Damon Runyon scientists:
Eric J. Bennett, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘08-‘11), University of California, San Diego
Ji-hye Paik, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘08), Weill Cornell Medical College, New York 

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May 1, 2012 > New Members of National Academy of Sciences Elected

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, 11 members of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation circle were inducted this May:

DAMON RUNYON FELLOWS
Rachel D. Green, PhD (Fellow ‘93-‘96, Current Innovation Award Committee, Fellowship Sponsor), Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore
Gregory J. Hannon, PhD (Fellow ‘92-‘94, Current Innovation Award Committee, Fellowship Sponsor), Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor
Eckard A. F. Wimmer, PhD (Grantee ‘71-‘74, Former Fellowship Award Committee, Fellowship Sponsor), Distinguished Professor, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook

DAMON RUNYON COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Ronald A. DePinho, MD (Former Fellowship Award Committee, Fellowship Sponsor), President, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
Liqun Luo, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee), Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor, Stanford University, Stanford
Alexander Rudensky, PhD (Current Fellowship Award Committee), Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York

DAMON RUNYON FELLOWSHIP SPONSORS and CLINICAL INVESTIGATOR MENTORS
John R. Carlson, PhD, Higgins Professor, Yale University, New Haven
Andrew G. Clark, PhD, Professor, Cornell University, Ithaca
Roy Parker, PhD, Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Regents’ Professor, University of Arizona, Tucson
Philippe J. Sansonetti, MD, Professor, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France
Richard A. Young, PhD, Professor of Biology, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

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