Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Awards Prestigious Fellowships to 18 Top Young Scientists

Grants totaling over $2.8M give early career investigators independence to pursue novel ideas

New York, NY (July 8, 2010) — The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on supporting exceptional early career researchers and innovative cancer research, named 18 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) to work on innovative projects.

May 2010 Damon Runyon Fellows

Niels Bradshaw, PhD, with his sponsor Richard M. Losick, PhD, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is studying the regulation of an enzyme called protein phosphatase that acts in specific cells to promote cellular differentiation.  Protein phosphatases are required for many processes, including cell growth, division, differentiation and stress adaptation.  He hopes that understanding phosphatase regulation will clarify the role of these enzymes in cancer and potentially aid in the development of anti-cancer therapies that target phosphatases.

Elizabeth M. Duncan, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with her sponsor Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, PhD, at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, is examining how DNA-sequence-independent (epigenetic) mechanisms regulate gene expression during regeneration in the planarian flatworm.  Such mechanisms are involved in the establishment and maintenance of cellular memory; understanding the normal function of epigenetics will lead to a better understanding of how their misregulation leads to cancer.

Kimberly Evason, MD, PhD, with her sponsor Didier Y.R. Stainier, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is studying liver development and liver tumor formation in zebrafish. Her focus is on hepatic stellate cells, support cells that surround both normal liver tissue and liver tumors.  She hopes to improve our understanding of how these cells influence liver cancer, including ways by which hepatic stellate cells might promote formation of liver tumors and/or lead to more aggressive tumor behavior.

Christopher J. Hale, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Steven E. Jacobsen, PhD, at the University of California, Los Angeles, California, is focusing on the basic biological processes that allow cells to coordinate the replication of their genes with the regulation of when those genes are turned on/off.  By studying the interplay of these two biological processes, he hopes to elucidate how tumor cells are able to bypass the strict controls that a cell uses to normally operate each process.

Daniel A. Heller, PhD, with his sponsor Robert S. Langer, ScD, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is developing a method to direct gene therapies to cancerous tissues.  He is synthesizing polymer nanoparticles that can target tumors using specific receptors on their surface.

David G. Hendrickson, PhD, with his sponsor John L. Rinn, PhD, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, aims to identify and describe RNA molecules called lincRNAs that may regulate how cancer cells read genetic information. Defining the roles of lincRNAs in cancer could open new avenues for more accurate diagnostics and effective therapeutics.

Sujun Hua, PhD, with his sponsor Ronald A. DePinho, MD, at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, aims to complete a comprehensive, genome-wide assessment of regulatory networks governing self-renewal and fate-determination programs in normal and malignant neural stem cells.  Tumor progression of certain tumor types, including glioblastoma, depends on a subpopulation of cells within the tumor called tumor stem cells.  Understanding the shared and distinct features of normal and malignant stem cells is critical to develop novel therapies that selectively target tumor stem cells but spare their normal counterparts.

Nikhil S. Joshi, PhD, with his sponsor Tyler Jacks, PhD, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is studying the response of the body’s immune system to tumors.  The goal of his research is to understand how cells of the immune system interact with growing tumors and why these cells are not able to effectively kill tumors.  One particular type of immune cell, the regulatory T cell, blocks anti-tumor immune cells from killing tumor cells.  Understanding how regulatory T cells function and how they promote tumor growth may be critical to developing future immune-based treatments and therapies for cancer patients.

Kristin A. Krukenberg, PhD, with her sponsor Timothy J. Mitchison, PhD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying the role of a molecule called poly(ADP-ribose) in cell division and mitotic spindle formation. By understanding poly(ADP-ribose) function and regulation in both cancer and non-cancer cells, she will investigate new avenues for the design of more effective and selective cancer therapeutics.

Gabriel C. Lander, PhD, with his sponsor Eva Nogales, PhD, at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California, is using electron microscopy to examine the mechanism by which cells initiate division.  His research will help explain why cancer cells form and will potentially lead to new molecular targets for cancer treatment.

John R. Lydeard, PhD, with his sponsor Jeffrey W. Harper, PhD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, is interested in studying how proteins are targeted for destruction. Defects in maintaining the balance between newly made proteins and those to be destroyed are often linked with cancer progression. Better understanding of how these processes are regulated will help to develop more effective anticancer therapeutics.

Costas A. Lyssiotis, PhD, with his sponsor Lewis C. Cantley, PhD, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying the underlying differences in cellular metabolism between cancer cells and normal cells.  In particular, he is interested in understanding (i) how cancer cells rewire their metabolic networks to satisfy the demands of continuous proliferation and (ii) what happens to cancerous cells when they are forced to behave metabolically like normal cells. While his initial studies will be aimed at addressing these questions in breast cancer, these studies have the potential to provide new ways to treat many types of cancers.

Dale Muzzey, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Jonathan S. Weissman, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is studying how both the sequence and structure of mRNAs affect the efficiency by which they are translated into protein in the yeast Candida albicans.  Defects in mRNA translation have been linked to several cancers, and he hopes to reveal features of translational control that generalize to humans.  Additionally, his project may highlight potential ways to combat Candida infections, which frequently afflict immune-compromised cancer patients undergoing therapy.

Jason A. Reuter, PhD, with his sponsor Michael P. Snyder, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is investigating the role of a new class of RNAs (long non-protein-coding RNAs) in regulation of cellular differentiation, a process that generates the specialized cell types found throughout our bodies.  Aberrant differentiation is commonly observed in human tumors; poorly differentiated tumor cells are associated with the worst prognosis.  Research on the regulation of normal cellular differentiation may, therefore, provide insight into the mechanisms underlying tumor progression.  These RNAs may also represent exciting possibilities as novel anti-cancer therapies.

Volker Schweikhard, PhD, with his sponsor Steven M. Block, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is investigating, at the single molecule level, how certain transcription factors assist an enzyme called RNA polymerase II in faithfully copying the genetic information stored in our DNA to messenger RNA—the blueprint for the proteins in our body. Aberrant gene expression lies at the heart of cancer, and thus, a detailed understanding of the activities of specific transcription factors may open up a potential route toward cancer therapy.

Lara C. Skwarek, PhD, with her sponsor David Bilder, PhD, at the University of California, Berkeley, California, is examining epithelial-to-mesenchymal transitions (EMTs), cellular changes that are required for normal development.  EMTs are also crucial benchmarks in tumor progression towards metastasis.  She will be performing a genetic screen for new molecules involved in EMTs.  These studies will broaden our knowledge of the role of EMTs in cancer progression with the additional goal of identifying new targets for cancer therapeutics.

Ian Y. Wong, PhD, with his sponsors Mehmet Toner, PhD, and Daniel Irimia, MD, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, Massachusetts, is developing a new experimental platform for characterizing how cancer cells migrate in response to biochemical signals and 3D structural architectures. This approach may yield novel insights into how malignant cancer cells invade, which would aid the development of anti-metastatic therapies.

Dong Yan, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Norbert Perrimon, PhD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, is aiming to generate profiles of phosphorylation for each kinase and phosphatase enzyme in the genome, and to relate these profiles to their in vivo functions during development.  Given the large number of kinase mutations associated with various cancers, understanding the phosphorylation network could prompt treatment tailored to aberrant signaling of specific pathways.


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DAMON RUNYON CANCER RESEARCH 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, and 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, the Foundation has invested over $230 million and funded more than 3,250 scientists.  This year, it will invest approximately $10 million in the most outstanding young investigators in the nation.

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


CONTACT
Yung S. Lie, PhD
Scientific Director
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
yung.lie@damonrunyon.org