Damon Runyon Blog

January 20, 2017

By Ralph Kleiner, PhD, Damon Runyon Fellow ’12-’14 at The Rockefeller University, New York


As a chemical biologist, my work is motivated by a desire to understand the natural world. While pursuing basic research may seem far removed from the clinic, fundamental advances in our molecular understanding of biology have transformed our ability to diagnose and treat cancer as well as other diseases. Since scientific progress is often slow and can follow a circuitous path, it is absolutely critical that organizations like Damon Runyon are willing to play the ‘long game’, and invest in early stage and basic research.


My lab employs multidisciplinary approaches to investigate the chemistry and biology of a fundamental molecule of life – RNA. Most of us recall from our high school biology class that the blueprint for life is stored in DNA, which is then transcribed into RNA, and finally translated into protein. While alterations in DNA have long been associated with certain cancers, we know much less about the implications of molecular changes in RNA for cancer development and progression. Interestingly, drugs that modify RNA chemistry have a long history of use in cancer treatment, however we lack a clear mechanistic understanding of how these drugs work. My work aims to address how the chemistry of RNA affects its function, with the goal of shedding new light on fundamental cellular processes and providing new therapeutic opportunities in cancer.


Damon Runyon first supported my research when I was a postdoctoral fellow, and has continued to do so as I recently transitioned to an independent faculty position. Their support has been invaluable in my scientific career. It has provided the financial flexibility required to pursue ambitious, high-risk, research projects that take time to bear fruit. But perhaps more importantly, support from Damon Runyon serves as vote of confidence in my research, and has exposed me to a group of exceptional scientists. It is an honor to be a Damon Runyon scientist and to work on the forefront of cancer research.