New Discoveries and Honors
Read about the latest discoveries by Damon Runyon scientists and honors received by scientists in the Damon Runyon scientific community.
Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Nadia’s Gift Foundation Innovator ’12-’15) and colleagues at the Abramson Cancer Center at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, reported high levels of inflammatory compounds in mice with pancreatic tumors. These included CCL2, a signaling molecule that promotes recruitment of inflammatory white blood cells by tumors. This likely contributes to the protective tumor microenvironment that makes most pancreatic tumors resistant to treatment. CCL2 levels increased further after the mice received radiotherapy. However, treatment with chemo and a CCL2-blocking antibody resulted in dramatically slower tumor growth and reduced recruitment of inflammatory cell types. These treated mice survived roughly 25% longer than those that received radiation alone. The results were published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Theodora S. Ross, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ’01-’03), and colleagues at UT Southwestern, Dallas, reported that the BRCA1 gene is required for the survival of blood forming stem cells. This could explain why patients with BRCA1 mutations do not have an elevated risk for leukemia; the stem cells die before they have an opportunity to transform into a blood cancer. These results also suggest that these patients may be at higher risk for the serious side effects of chemotherapy. The study was published in Cell Reports.
Pardis C. Sabeti, MD, DPhil (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘06) of Harvard University, Cambridge, will receive the 2017 Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences. She is recognized for her groundbreaking contributions including the development of new methods to study evolutionary selection in humans and viruses; the creation of new collaborative models for combatting emerging diseases across disciplinary and national borders; and leadership of global efforts to increase data sharing in pandemics such as Ebola and Lassa Fever. She published landmark genomic studies describing Ebola virus transmission during the 2014 outbreak.
Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) of The Rockefeller University, New York, has been named the recipient of the 2017 McEwen Award for Innovation. The prize, given by the International Society for Stem Cell Research, recognizes groundbreaking work pertaining to stem cells or regenerative medicine. Dr. Fuchs studies adult skin stem cells, how they make and repair tissues, and how cancers develop.
Akinyemi I. Ojesina, MBBS, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’08-’11), of University of Alabama at Birmingham, worked with The Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network to identify novel genomic and molecular characteristics of cervical cancer that will aid in the subclassification of the disease and may help define personalized therapies for each individual patient. The new study conducted a comprehensive analysis of the genomes of 178 primary cervical cancers, and found that more than 70 percent of the tumors had genomic alterations in either one or both of two important cell signaling pathways (PI3K/MAPK and TGF-beta). The researchers also found that a subset of tumors did not show evidence of human papillomavirus infection. Certain cervical cancers contained mutations in genes that normally put ‘brakes’ on the immune system, suggesting treatment with immunotherapy “checkpoint inhibitors” may be effective against these cancers. The report was published in the scientific journal Nature.
Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) and Shruti Naik, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’14-’18) at The Rockefeller University, New York, and colleagues, found that skin squamous cell carcinomas alter the protein-making machinery to preferentially use tumor-related mRNAs, leading to the production of proteins important for cancer progression. This switch is linked to a ribosome initiation factor called eIF2 and transition initiation factor eIF2A. The results suggest that these could represent new targets for anticancer drug development. The study was published in the scientific journal Nature.
Trudy G. Oliver, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ’13-’15), and colleagues at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, reported the generation of a new mouse model for studying small cell lung cancer (SCLC). They demonstrated that Myc oncogene expression cooperates with Rb1 and Trp53 loss in the mouse lung to promote aggressive, highly metastatic tumors that are initially sensitive to chemotherapy followed by relapse. Targeted drug screening found that SCLC with high MYC expression is vulnerable to Aurora kinase inhibition, which, combined with chemotherapy, strongly suppresses tumor progression and increases survival. This study identified molecular features for patient stratification and uncovers a potential targeted treatment approach for these specific cancers. The study was published in Cancer Cell.
Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14) of the Broad Institute, Cambridge, and colleagues, reported the discovery of new types of RNA-targeting CRISPR systems, which utilize a novel Cas enzyme called Cas13b. Cas13b is capable of targeting and degrading RNA (rather than DNA, which is targeted by previous CRISPR systems), which will enable researchers to specifically manipulate RNA in a high-throughput manner and manipulate gene function more broadly. The characterization of Cas13b has the potential to create a suite of RNA manipulation tools for studying a wide-range of biological processes that could be important for understanding and treatment of cancer and other diseases. The findings were reported in the scientific journal Molecular Cell.