December 26, 2013 > Novel genetic causes of cervical cancer uncovered
A team of researchers including Akinyemi I. Ojesina, MBBS, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘08-‘11) and Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute, Cambridge, reported genome sequencing results for 115 cervical cancer patient tumor samples. The researchers identified genetic mutations not previously found in cervical cancer, including at least one for which targeted treatments exist for other forms of cancer. The findings also provide further insight into the role human papillomavirus (HPV) plays in the development of cervical cancer, supporting vaccination against HPV as an important preventative strategy against the disease.
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December 2, 2013 > 2013 Meyenburg Cancer Research Award
Nathanael S. Gray, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘08-‘10), of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, was honored as the recipient of the prestigious 2013 Meyenburg Cancer Research Award. He was recognized for his groundbreaking work in developing first-in-class chemical inhibitors for protein kinases, which are potential targets to treat cancer and other diseases.
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October 21, 2013 > Institute of Medicine elects new members
Election to the Institute of Medicine is one of the highest honors that can be earned in the fields of medicine and health. In recognition of their outstanding achievements, 7 members of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation community were inducted this month:
Helen M. Piwnica-Worms, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘84-‘85, Former Fellowship Award Committee Member), The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
Danny F. Reinberg, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘83-‘85), New York University School of Medicine, New York City
Frederick R. Appelbaum, MD (Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member, Former Clinical Investigator Mentor), Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle
Eric R. Fearon, MD, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee Member), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Waun Ki Hong, MD (Former Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member, Former Clinical Investigator Mentor), The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston
Richard Kolodner, PhD (Former Fellowship Sponsor), Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, University of California, San Diego
Ruslan M. Medzhitov, PhD (Former Fellowship Sponsor), Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven
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October 10, 2013 > Liver cancer cells identified before tumors are visible
Guobin He, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘09), and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, reported that they were able to identify and isolate the progenitor that give rise to liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) long before actual tumors were apparent. The researchers identified signaling pathways that are activated in these cells, thus giving rise to cancer progression. They hope to apply these findings to earlier detection and improved therapeutic interventions. The study was published in the journal Cell.
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October 7, 2013 > 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
James E. Rothman, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘76-‘78) of Yale University, New Haven, was named a recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He shares the honor with Randy W. Schekman (Former Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) and Thomas C. Südhof “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.” Dr. Rothman is the twelfth Damon Runyon Scientist to be named a Nobel Laureate.
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September 30, 2013 > New NIH High-Risk High-Reward Research Awards announced
The intent of the NIH High-Risk High-Reward Research Awards is to encourage investigators to explore bold ideas that have the potential to catapult fields forward and speed the translation of research into improved health. We congratulate the Damon Runyon scientists who are recipients of these awards.
2013 NIH Pioneer Awards:
Michael Z. Lin, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘13-‘15), Stanford University, Stanford
Mark J. Zylka, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘00-‘03), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
2013 NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards:
Jason M. Crawford, PhD (Dale F. Frey Scientist ‘12-‘14, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘09-‘11), Yale University, New Haven
Elizabeth S. Sattely, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘08-‘10), Stanford University, Stanford
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September 19, 2013 > Regular colonoscopy screening and cancer prevention
Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health reported the results of a large, long-term study demonstrating that 40% of all colorectal cancers could be prevented through regular colonoscopy screening. The new research also supports existing guidelines recommending that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer should have a colonoscopy every 10 years. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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September 9, 2013 > Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10”
Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14), of the Broad Institute, Cambridge, has been named to Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” list for his development of innovative genome engineering tools. The list is comprised of “scientists and engineers who are dramatically reshaping their fields and the future.”
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August 21, 2013 > Technology Review’s “35 Innovators under 35”
Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14), of the Broad Institute, Cambridge, has been named to MIT Technology Review’s list of “35 Innovators under 35” for his research focused on building genome engineering tools. The list is comprised of “exceptionally talented technologists whose work has great potential to transform the world.”
Damon Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium Raises Over $748,000 to Fund Cancer Research
New York, NY (August 19, 2013) — Thousands of baseball fans, runners, walkers, cancer survivors, and their friends and family gathered at Yankee Stadium on Sunday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Damon Runyon 5K at Yankee Stadium. One of New York’s most unique summer events, the Runyon 5K is the only charitable run/walk that uses the iconic Stadium as its course. This year’s event raised more than $717,000 and counting for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s groundbreaking efforts to strike out cancer. Since inception, the event has raised more than $2.7 million.
Runners were welcomed to the Stadium by WNBC sports anchor Scott Stanford and Damon Runyon president and CEO, Lorraine Egan. Official race starter “Bald Vinny” Milano, a familiar face in Yankee Stadium, then led a special version of the Roll Call he and his fellow Bleacher Creatures have popularized in the stands. Runners were then welcomed by a video greeting from the Official Ambassador, Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner.
“Bald Vinny” officially led the race countdown and released the first wave of competitive runners from the start line inside Gate 4 at 9:30 am. This was followed by heats of recreational runners and walkers, with the last heat taking off in the early afternoon. The top finisher was Matt Lowenthal of Queens, NY.
The course wound through the legendary ballpark’s concourses and ramps, leading adventurous runners up the stairs between levels. All participants appeared on the centerfield video board as they took two laps around the warning track circling the field. Friends, family and supporters watched the race from the Delta SKY360° Suite overlooking home plate, mingling with the Damon Runyon scientists their contributions help support.
As always, 100% of all donations raised by participants will directly support the nation’s most brilliant young scientists, pursuing cures for all forms of cancer. “Over the past five years, the proceeds from the Runyon 5K have allowed us to fund amazing cancer researchers doing incredible work,” said Lorraine W. Egan, President and CEO of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. “Our 5K participants have made breakthroughs possible - it’s as simple as that.”
The Runyon 5K is the latest chapter in the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation’s long history with the Yankees. After the Foundation’s establishment in 1946, Joe DiMaggio was on its Board of Directors and Mickey Mantle was an active fundraiser. Damon Runyon himself was a New York writer who began his career as a baseball journalist, revolutionizing how the game was covered and often reporting on Yankees games.
The 2013 Runyon 5K was presented by MetLife Foundation, with additional support from Brick-Run Sports Physical Therapy, NYSID, 24 Hour Fitness, NBC 4 New York, the New York Daily News, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and the New York Yankees.
(Photo credit: James Petrozello)
ABOUT THE FOUNDATION
To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today’s best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. The Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists. Eleven scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven others have received National Medals of Science, and 63 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested more than $270 million and funded more than 3,400 young scientists.
100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support cutting-edge scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets and endowment. For more information visit www.damonrunyon.org.
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
August 15, 2013 > 2013 W. M. Keck Foundation Medical Research Program Grants awarded
The W. M. Keck Foundation awarded 2013 Medical Research Program Grants to scientists conducting high-risk research with the potential for transformative impact. Three Damon Runyon scientists received grants of $1,000,000 each:
Sreekanth H. Chalasani, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘07), Salk Institute, La Jolla
Joshua E. Elias, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘11-‘13), Stanford University, Stanford
Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14), Broad Institute, Cambridge
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August 6, 2013 > Personalized tumor vaccine boosts immune response in leukemia patients
Catherine J. Wu, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘07-‘12) and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported the success of a new strategy to boost leukemia patients’ immune systems after transplant. In a phase I clinical study, patients with advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) were given a “personalized” tumor vaccine composed of their own inactivated leukemia cells combined with an immune stimulant called GM-CSF. The vaccine strengthened the immune system’s ability to attack the cancer, resulting in remission in 72 percent of patients treated. These promising results were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
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Damon Runyon Grants Prestigious Fellowship Awards to 17 Top Young Scientists
Grants totaling over $2.7M give early career investigators independence to pursue novel ideas
New York, NY (July 9, 2013) – The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, named 17 new Damon Runyon Fellows at its spring Fellowship Award Committee review. The recipients of this prestigious, three-year award are outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators across the country. The Fellowship encourages the nation’s most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding ($156,000 each for basic scientists, $186,000 for physician-scientists) to work on innovative projects.
May 2013 Damon Runyon Fellows:
Shreeram Akilesh, MD, PhD, with his sponsor John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, MD, at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, focuses on regions of the genome previously thought to be “junk DNA.” Recent studies demonstrate that they in fact contain motifs that serve a vital function in gene regulation. Using next-generation sequencing strategies and advanced bioinformatics analyses, he will study the reprogramming of regulatory DNA regions as normal kidney tissues transform into cancers. This research will provide insights into the genomic regulation of kidney cancer that could be used to develop more effective treatments.
Christine Iok In Chio, PhD, with her sponsor David A. Tuveson, MD, PhD, at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, works on pancreatic cancer, which is a particularly devastating and difficult-to-treat disease because of its ability to grow in conditions of high oxidative stress—conditions in which normal cells would not survive. She is evaluating the biological role of oxidative stress in pancreatic cancer development and progression, using both mouse models of pancreatic cancer as well as human tumor samples.
Tracy T. Chow, PhD, with her sponsor Elizabeth H. Blackburn, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, studies the molecular basis of how cancer cells maintain the ability to divide indefinitely. In most human cancers, an enzyme named telomerase is crucial in maintaining chromosomal ends (or telomeres) to achieve immortality. She is exploring a novel mechanism for telomere maintenance, which could advance the development of improved therapeutics for glioblastoma and other cancers.
Michael A. Cianfrocco, PhD [HHMI Fellow], with his sponsors Andres Leschziner, PhD, and Samara L. Reck-Peterson, PhD, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, studies proteins called dynactin and dynein that function to transport organelles within the cell, a process that is particularly important during cell division. He aims to elucidate the structural basis for dynactin’s ability to regulate dynein activity. Since many viruses, including cancer-causing oncoviruses, require dynein to be transported from the cell membrane to the nucleus for genome replication, understanding the molecular details of dynein-dynactin function may provide novel targets for cancer therapies.
Justin M. Crest, PhD, with his sponsor David Bilder, PhD, at the University of California, Berkeley, California, is studying the mechanical forces between cells and their underlying substrate, or extracellular matrix (ECM). The physical properties of cells and the ECM shape tissues during development and are critical for malignant tumor progression and metastasis. His research will determine which molecules generate and balance the mechanical forces involved in migration and tissue formation and thus identify novel mechanisms of malignancy.
Mary Williard Elting, PhD, with her sponsor Sophie Dumont, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, studies the mechanics of cell division, with the goal of understanding how cells accurately transmit one copy of their genetic information into each of two daughter cells. Mistakes in this process are implicated in cancer, as well as birth defects and miscarriage. She will mechanically disrupt dividing cells and then detect how these perturbations affect the forces generated during division.
Wenwen Fang, PhD [HHMI Fellow], with her sponsor David P. Bartel, PhD, at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, aims to understand the mechanism and regulation of microRNA biogenesis. MicroRNAs function to regulate gene expression and their disruption contributes to the initiation and progression of cancer. She will combine high-throughput sequencing techniques and biochemistry to examine the recognition and processing of microRNA precursors, which may ultimately contribute to more effective cancer diagnosis and therapy.
Jessica P. Lao, PhD, with her sponsor David P. Toczyski, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, focuses on genome instability and altered metabolism, which are common characteristics of cancer. The “DNA damage checkpoint” detects and repairs DNA damage to maintain genomic integrity and has also been implicated in regulating metabolism through an unknown mechanism. Identifying metabolic targets of the DNA damage checkpoint will advance our knowledge of the underlying signaling pathway and provide additional targets for cancer therapy.
Steven Lin, PhD [HHMI Fellow], with his sponsor Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD, at the University of California, Berkeley, California, investigates the molecular mechanism by which the bacterial enzyme Cas9 targets and cleaves double-stranded DNA. His goal is to provide a detailed understanding of Cas9 mechanism and structure, ultimately aiming to develop Cas9 into a versatile genome engineering tool for further studies of cancer-associated genes.
Xiaoxiao Shawn Liu, PhD, with his sponsor Philip A. Beachy, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, focuses on the Hedgehog signaling pathway, which plays a central role in embryonic development and tissue regeneration. Dysfunction of this pathway is associated with numerous cancers. He aims to understand how the exterior signal of Hedgehog is transduced across the cell membrane by a membrane protein called Smoothened. A deeper understanding of Hedgehog signal transduction will provide a basis for novel therapies to prevent and inhibit cancers.
Andrew R. Nager, PhD [Fayez Sarofim Fellow], with his sponsor Maxence V. Nachury, PhD, at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, is studying the primary cilium, an organelle that cells use to sense the environment and communicate with other cells. To do so, the primary cilium selectively exchanges signaling molecules with the cell body. He is using cell biology, biochemistry, and biophysics to understand the gate between the primary cilium and the cell body. Because dysfunctions of the primary cilium promote cancer and cause developmental disease, this research is an important new avenue of exploration.
Beverly J. Piggott, PhD, with her sponsor Yuh Nung-Jan, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is exploring the role of ion channels in brain cancer. Ion channels function as a “gate” to regulate the movement of ions (such as sodium and potassium) into and out of the cell. They are essential for proper cell growth and signaling in normal cells, and misregulation or mutations in ion channels have been linked to cancer cell proliferation and metastasis. Her goal is to obtain mechanistic insight into the function of ion channels in brain tumors, which may provide new targets for diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.
Alex Pollen, PhD, with his sponsor Arnold R. Kriegstein, MD, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is using comparative genomics, single cell gene expression, and stem cell biology approaches to study genes uniquely expressed in human neural stem cells. Because the development of the human brain involves many of the same processes – increased proliferation, migration, and angiogenesis – that become dysregulated in brain tumors, these genes with specific neural stem cell expression may serve as therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers of brain tumor stem cells that initiate glioblastoma and other cancers.
Jens C. Schmidt, PhD [Merck Fellow], with his sponsor Thomas R. Cech, PhD, at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, focuses on understanding how the enzyme telomerase maintains the length of the ends of human chromosomes. This process is crucial to prevent chromosome fusion events, a strong driving force of cancer. In addition, 90% of all cancers require telomerase activity for survival, making it a potential target for cancer therapy. He will use a combination of biophysical, biochemical and cell biological approaches to elucidate how telomerase is recruited to chromosome ends and to identify potential inhibitors of this process.
Eric L. Van Nostrand, PhD [Merck Fellow] , with his sponsor Eugene Yeo, PhD, at the University of California, San Diego, California, aims to understand how alterations in RNA processing can lead to cancer development and progression. He will identify RNA processing factors that drive medulloblastoma brain tumor growth and proliferation, and use genomics techniques to profile their regulatory targets. This network will both serve as a tool for understanding basic mechanisms of neuronal and medulloblastoma development and progression, and a means to identify critical modulators of tumor development that can serve as targets for future therapeutics.
Jakob von Moltke, PhD [HHMI Fellow], with his sponsor Richard Locksley, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, studies how the immune system detects bacteria and parasitic worms. Emerging evidence suggests that these same immune cells also respond to tissue damage in the absence of infection, suggesting an evolutionary role in wound healing. He is examining how these cells are regulated during wound healing and how their activity contributes to tissue regeneration and repair. Since tumors regularly hijack the body’s natural wound healing processes, his findings should provide insight into tumorigenesis and could suggest novel therapeutic strategies.
Victoria E.H. Wang, MD, PhD, with her sponsor Frank McCormick, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, seeks to understand the mechanisms by which tumor cells become resistant to drug therapy and spread to distant organs. She is utilizing functional genomics tools to identify novel pathways modulating these processes in the hope of developing new therapies to augment treatment response in cancer patients.
To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today’s best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. The Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists. Eleven scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven others have received National Medals of Science, and 65 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Others are heads of cancer centers and leaders of renowned research programs. Each of its award programs is extremely competitive, with less than 10% of applications funded. Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested nearly $270 million and funded more than 3,400 young scientists.
100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets Service and endowment.
For more information visit www.damonrunyon.org
Damon Runyon, Sohn Conference Foundations Name 4 New Pediatric Cancer Research Fellows
New York, NY (July 12, 2013) – The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has named four outstanding young scientists as recipients of the prestigious Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Research Fellowship Award, committing more than $680,000 to help address a critical shortage of funding for pediatric cancer research. The Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, announced last year that it was granting $1.5 million to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the leading charity supporting innovative young cancer researchers, to establish the award. It provides funding to basic scientists and clinicians who conduct research with the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of one or more pediatric cancers. Each recipient receives a three-year award ($186,000 for physician-scientists, $156,000 for basic scientists). Since 2012, this award has supported seven innovative pediatric cancer researchers.
July 2013 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows:
Kenneth Chen, MD, with his sponsor James Amatruda, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, studies Wilms tumor, a pediatric kidney cancer that is the fourth most common childhood cancer. Wilms tumor is treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation; although outcomes have dramatically improved over the decades, they remain poor for children with high-risk disease. His preliminary research has identified a subset of Wilms tumors with dysregulated expression of microRNAs, a type of short noncoding RNA that regulates protein production. He will study how this dysregulation causes cancer in children and aims to use this information to develop a novel therapeutic strategy for these tumors.
Haihua Scott Chu, PhD, with his sponsor Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD, at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, focuses on a promising new class of therapy that inhibits epigenetic regulators, proteins that control the expression and activity of genes through DNA sequence-independent chemical modifications. Much remains unknown about how these new drugs induce specific changes in tumors upon treatment or what their efficacy is in sustaining long-term, durable responses in patients. He plans to characterize the changes induced with the use of such inhibitors in animal and human models of leukemia. These studies may serve as a proof of principle for the broader use of epigenetic inhibitors as a part of cancer therapy.
Shuibin Lin, PhD, with his sponsor Richard Gregory, PhD, at Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying neuroblastoma brain cancers. Genetic amplification and aberrant expression of the oncogenes LIN28B and MYCN are associated with high-risk neuroblastoma and poor survival. Interestingly, these genes positively regulate each other and form a self-reinforcing feedback loop to drive neuroblastoma oncogenesis. His research aims to identify novel factors that interact with LIN28B/MYCN in tumor formation. He is characterizing a LIN28B-interacting long intergenic non-coding RNA (lincRNA) and will determine how the lincRNA functions to regulate neuroblastoma progression.
Amit J. Sabnis, MD, with his sponsor Trever G. Bivona, MD, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is exploring novel treatment options for rhabdomyosarcomas, the most common pediatric soft tissue sarcomas. These sarcomas uniquely depend on the activity of “protein chaperones” that prevent newly made proteins from forming toxic clumps. His research focuses on small molecules that inhibit one class of chaperones called HSP70s. The goal of these studies is to identify a new target for drug development to help cure this disease.
“These are some of the best young scientists working in pediatric research today, and they’re at a critical juncture in their careers,” says William Carroll, MD, chair of the Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Committee and Director of the New York University Cancer Institute. “They need our financial support, and we need their brilliant minds focused on curing childhood cancers. That is why this award and the work that Damon Runyon and Sohn do are so important.”
Because cancer occurs less frequently in children and young adults than in the adult population, it does not receive significant funding from either the National Cancer Institute (only four percent of its budget) or the biopharmaceutical industry. As a result, there have been limited advances in recent years in treating these cancers, and fewer scientists are working in this field.
“I am inspired by Damon Runyon’s dedication to finding the right projects and young scientists to fund,” says Evan Sohn of the Sohn Conference Foundation. “We are all so excited to invest in these new Fellows and the cutting-edge research they’re doing on behalf of children and young adults with cancer.”
The Foundation was established in memory of Ira Sohn, a Wall Street professional whose life was cut short when he passed away from cancer. For more than fifteen years, the Foundation has raised funds for pediatric cancer research through its highly-respected annual investment conference, the Sohn Investment Conference, which features many of Wall Street’s best and most successful investors. Thanks to the dedication of the conference founders, esteemed speakers, volunteers, and generous donors, the Foundation has invested more than $20 million in innovative research and institutions at the forefront of cancer research and pediatric care.
To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today’s best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. Eleven scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven have received National Medals of Science, and 65 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the science “Hall of Fame.”
Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested nearly $270 million and funded more than 3,400 young scientists. 100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support cutting-edge scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets and its endowment.
Sohn Conference Foundation
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Awards $3.6M to 9 Top Young Clinical Investigators
Public release date: 1-Jul-2013
New York, NY, July 1, 2013 - The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation named six new Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators at its spring 2013 Clinical Investigator Award Committee review. The recipients of this prestigious three-year award are outstanding early career physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research at major research centers under the mentorship of the nation’s leading scientists and clinicians. Each will receive $450,000 to support the development of his/her cancer research program.
The Foundation also awarded Continuation Grants to three Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators. Each award will provide an additional two years of funding totaling $300,000. The Continuation Grant is designed to support Clinical Investigators who are approaching the end of their original awards and need extra time and funding to complete a promising avenue of research or initiate/continue a clinical trial. This program is possible through the generous support of the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and Connie and Robert Lurie.
The Clinical Investigator Award program is specifically intended to help address the shortage of physicians capable of translating scientific discovery into new breakthroughs for cancer patients. In partnerships with industry sponsors and through its new Accelerating Cancer Cures initiative, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has committed almost $45 million to support the careers of 70 physician-scientists across the United States since 2000.
2013 Clinical Investigator Awardees
Omar Abdel-Wahab, MD
Dr. Abdel-Wahab specializes in specific blood cancers called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). He recently identified mutations in the gene ASXL1 in patients with MDS and AML. ASXL1 is one of the most commonly mutated genes in MDS patients, and these mutations occur in up to 20% of AML patients. ASXL1 mutations result in a worsened overall survival in MDS and AML patients and contribute to chemotherapy resistance in AML. However, exactly how these mutations contribute to leukemia development remains unknown.
He has demonstrated that loss of ASXL1 results in increased expression of genes that are known to promote development of AML. Preliminary data suggests that ASXL1 regulates expression of key genes by affecting proteins called histones. In a mouse model, loss of ASXL1 alone results in a phenotype remarkably similar to human MDS. Moreover, when ASXL1 loss is combined with other genes known to promote chronic leukemia in mice, an acute leukemia develops that hastens death of the mice. His overall goal is to gain a more thorough understanding of ASXL1 function and to ultimately test approved as well as novel targeted therapeutics for treatment of MDS and AML.
Dr. Abdel-Wahab works under the mentorship of Ross L. Levine, MD, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York.
Himisha Beltran, MD [Damon Runyon-Gordon Family Clinical Investigator]
Many prostate cancers initially respond to treatments that block the hormone testosterone, thus halting tumor growth. These treatments block testosterone by targeting a molecule called the androgen receptor (AR). However, patients often develop resistance to these drugs, giving rise to an aggressive AR-independent form of prostate cancer. Often under-recognized, AR-negative neuroendocrine prostate cancer (NEPC) currently represents approximately 25% of advanced prostate cancers. The clinical diagnosis is most often made when the cancer has metastasized, especially to liver and brain, and is associated with a low prostate specific antigen (PSA) level. The poor prognosis of NEPC is, in part, due to an incomplete understanding of the molecular events underlying its development.
By utilizing valuable tissue resources and state-of-the-art technologies, Dr. Beltran seeks to comprehensively evaluate NEPC tumors for recurrent molecular alterations and determine their functional and clinical impact. She will identify a genomic profile that distinguishes NEPC from the more common type of prostate cancer, prostate adenocarcinoma, and evaluate the impact of NEPC-associated alterations on patient outcomes and their ability to predict patient response to available therapies. Her goal is to improve our understanding of molecular events associated with disease progression and help develop strategies toward preventing NEPC. Distinguishing NEPC will help identify prostate cancer patients unlikely to benefit from additional AR-targeted strategies and select patients for novel targeted treatment approaches for NEPC.
Dr. Beltran works under the mentorship of Mark A. Rubin, MD, at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, New York.
Christine M. Lovly, MD, PhD
Lung cancer is responsible for more cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and worldwide each year than any other cancer. Historically, patients with advanced metastatic disease have been treated with conventional chemotherapy. Recently, however, subsets of lung cancer patients have been identified with specific molecular alterations that allow for treatment with rationally chosen targeted therapies. One molecular subset of lung cancer is characterized by the presence of alterations in a protein called ALK tyrosine kinase. Patients with lung cancers that harbor ALK fusions derive significant clinical benefit from a newly approved drug that blocks the action of the mutant ALK. Unfortunately, the degree and duration of tumor response to ALK inhibitor drugs varies, and patients inevitably develop progressive disease, or “acquired resistance.” Additional strategies are needed to improve the treatment of these lung cancer patients.
Dr. Lovly’s goal is to develop novel treatment strategies for ALK positive lung cancer.
She plans to improve our understanding of how ALK fusions transmit signals to promote cancer and of how these signals become altered in the context of acquired resistance to ALK inhibitors. Her work will identify novel targets that can be blocked in combination with ALK inhibitors, to promote enhanced anti-tumor responses. Since ALK mutations have been described in a growing number of hematologic and solid organ tumors, an improved understanding of ALK signaling—as well as mechanisms of resistance to ALK inhibition—may also have potential implications for other cancers.
Dr. Lovly works under the mentorship of William Pao, MD, PhD, at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.
Ann Mullally, MD
Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) are a type of blood cancer sometimes considered to be “pre-leukemias” which can progress to leukemia and are also lethal cancers in their own right. A population of rare hematopoietic stem cells (HSC), called MPN disease-propagating cells, typically harbor mutations that cause the cells to overproliferate. These mutated HSC produce abnormal cancerous blood cells that over time can eliminate the normal blood cells in the bone marrow. In MPN, the cancerous blood cells secrete an excess of substances called growth factors that allow cancer cells to survive.
Dr. Mullally aims to understand which of the growth factors help the mutated HSC to survive and to then use drugs to block the activity of these growth factors, thus killing the mutated HSC. This approach will lead to more successful treatments for MPN and leukemia, resulting in a higher cure rate for patients.
Dr. Mullally works under the mentorship of Benjamin L. Ebert, MD, and Daniel J. Deangelo, MD, PhD, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.
Deepak Nijhawan, MD, PhD
Despite recent advances, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer related death in the United States, and there is an urgent need for new therapies. The most successful treatments for lung cancer to date are the targeted drugs erlotinib and crizotinib. These drugs block tumor growth in cancers that respectively harbor either mutations in EGFR or translocations in the ALK gene. Unfortunately, only a minor fraction of patients’ tumors have EGFR mutations or ALK translocations; therefore, the vast majority of patients lack an effective targeted therapy.
Dr. Nijhawan aims to identify novel targets in lung cancer so that similarly effective therapy can be developed for other patients. He has identified a set of chemicals called benzothiazoles that are effective in blocking the growth of 25% of lung cancer cell types tested. The protein target of the benzothiazole and the genetic alterations that predict sensitivity are unknown. His research focuses on identifying both the benzothiazole protein target as well as predictive biomarkers that explain why only certain lung cancers are susceptible to its effect. The identification of these biomarkers in lung cancer patients may highlight a set of patients who could be treated with benzothiazole-related compounds.
Dr. Nijhawan works under the mentorship of Steve L. McKnight, PhD, and David Johnson, MD, at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas.
Cameron J. Turtle, MD, PhD
Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT) is a potentially curative procedure for patients with hematologic malignancies who are otherwise incurable with conventional therapies. Despite advances in post-transplant care, the morbidity and mortality of complications such as graft versus host disease (GVHD) and infections remain significant limitations, and hinder the application of this life-saving procedure. Infection and GVHD are influenced by the immune system, which in turn is regulated by the bacterial contents of the human gastrointestinal tract.
Dr. Turtle will test the hypotheses that alterations in the bacterial composition of the human gastrointestinal tract regulate the reconstitution of a specialized bacteria-responsive subset of immune cells after HCT, and that impaired regulation of this immune cell subset is associated with an increased risk of infection or GVHD.
Dr. Turtle works under the mentorship of Stanley R. Riddell, MD, at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington.
2013 Clinical Investigator Continuation Grants
Tobias Carling, MD, PhD
Dr. Carling focuses on endocrine tumors, a type of cancer that affects hormone-producing tissues in the body (such as the thyroid, pituitary gland, adrenal gland and islet cells of the pancreas). The underlying genetic basis for endocrine tumors is not yet known. Dr. Carling’s goal is to complete a comprehensive genomic analysis of patients with endocrine tumor disease in order to identify individual genes involved in early cancer formation. The Continuation Grant will be used to further these studies on endocrine tumors and also characterize thyroid and adrenal cancers. He aims to use these findings to develop improved strategies for personalized medical and surgical treatment of cancer patients.
Dr. Carling works under the mentorship of Richard P. Lifton, MD, PhD, and Robert Udelsman, MD, MBA, at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
N. Lynn Henry, MD, PhD
Due to advances in cancer screening and treatments, the majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer will be cured of their disease. However, many will require at least five years of therapy with medications called aromatase inhibitors, which greatly reduce the amount of estrogen circulating in the body. These drugs cause new or worsening aches and pains in about half of women taking them, resulting in decreased quality of life.
The overall goal of this project is to obtain a better understanding of why some patients with breast cancer develop treatment-related pain. Dr. Henry [Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator] will use the Continuation Grant to investigate the impact of chemotherapy on pain processing pathways, which could predispose patients to chronic pain. She will also evaluate factors that could be used to predict which patients with aromatase inhibitor-associated pain will respond to a specific type of therapy called duloxetine. A greater understanding of why breast cancer survivors develop treatment-related pain could lead to prevention or better management of symptoms, thereby improving long-term quality of life.
Dr. Henry works under the mentorship of Daniel F. Hayes, MD, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Brian G. Till, MD
Certain types of lymphoma, such as the indolent B cell lymphomas and mantle cell lymphoma, are incurable with standard therapies. These diseases can, however, be cured using stem cell transplantation, in which immune T cells from the donor kill lymphoma cells. This procedure unfortunately carries the serious risk of graft-versus-host disease, which can be life-threatening.
In order to provide safer therapy options, Dr. Till [Damon Runyon-Pfizer Clinical Investigator] aims to develop a new treatment for lymphoma using patients’ own T cells to fight their cancers: patient cells are collected, a gene is inserted into the cells that allows them to recognize and kill lymphoma cells, and then the cells are infused back into the patient. Using his Continuation Grant, he is leading a phase I clinical trial testing this treatment in lymphoma patients. He is optimistic that this strategy will translate into a safe, curative treatment for patients with lymphoma; insights from this work may help to advance similar treatments for other types of cancer.
Dr. Till works under the mentorship of Oliver W. Press, MD, PhD, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Seattle, Washington.
To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today’s best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. The Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists. Eleven scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven others have received National Medals of Science, and 65 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested nearly $270 million and funded more than 3,400 young scientists.
100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support cutting-edge scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets and endowment.
For more information visit www.damonrunyon.org.
Yung S. Lie, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
June 25, 2013 > Aspirin effectiveness in reducing colorectal cancer risk linked to genetic mutation
Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues, reported that the association between aspirin use and risk of colorectal cancer was affected by mutation of the gene BRAF. Researchers found that regular aspirin use was associated with a lower risk of BRAF-wild-type colorectal cancer but not with risk of BRAF-mutated cancer. These results were published in the journal JAMA.
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June 13, 2013 > Damon Runyon scientist named 2013 Pew Scholar
The Pew Charitable Trusts named 22 new Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences for 2013. The award gives innovative young scientists “the freedom to take calculated risks and the resources to pursue the most promising, but untried, avenues for scientific breakthroughs.” Damon Runyon scientist Avital A. Rodal, PhD (Fellow ‘03-‘06) of Brandeis University, Waltham, is included in this prestigious group.
June 4, 2013 > New targeted therapy for advanced lung cancer
Alice Tsang Shaw, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘05) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues, reported that treatment with the investigational drug LDK378 resulted in an overall response rate of 60% to 78% in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with mutations in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. In March, LDK378 received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
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June 4, 2013 > Drug stalls progression of thyroid cancer
Marcia S. Brose, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘05-‘10) of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues, reported results from a Phase 3 clinical trial (DECISION trial) demonstrating that the FDA-approved drug Nexavar (sorafenib) stopped metastatic thyroid cancers from progressing – nearly doubling progression-free survival from 5.8 to 10.8 months. This result is particularly exciting because no new drugs have been approved for this form of thyroid cancer in 40 years. The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and featured in The Wall Street Journal.
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June 2, 2013 > Promising new treatment for advanced melanoma
Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and colleagues, reported the success of a new combination therapy for advanced metastatic melanoma. The therapy combines two drugs (Yervoy and nivolumab) to block “checkpoint” pathways, thus stimulating T cells in the immune system to attack cancers. In a Phase I clinical trial, the combination was demonstrated to be more effective than either drug administered alone. 65% of patients in the study showed halted disease progression, and 40% experienced tumor reduction. The researchers hope that this therapy might be effective for patients with other advanced cancers, like non-small cell lung cancer and renal cancer. The results were reported at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual meeting and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.