New Discoveries and Honors

Read about the latest discoveries by Damon Runyon scientists and honors received by scientists in the Damon Runyon scientific community.

May 3, 2016

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, members of the Damon Runyon community of scientists were inducted this May:


Adrian P. Bird, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '71-'73), Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom 

Nathaniel Heintz, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '79-'81), The Rockefeller University, New York City

Philip A. Hieter, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '82-'84), University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


Kenneth W. Kinzler, PhD (Innovation Award Committee), The Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore 

Amita Sehgal, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

April 25, 2016

Azad Bonni, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’96-’97) of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, and colleagues, were the first to show that a protein called OSMR (Oncostatin M Receptor) is required for glioblastoma tumors to form. They found that blocking OSMR activity in brain tumor stem cells prevented them from forming tumors in mouse brains. In addition, an analysis of 339 tumor samples from human glioblastoma patients showed that higher OSMR expression corresponded with worse patient survival outcome. They plan to next develop small molecules or antibodies that can shut down the OSMR protein as a novel therapeutic strategy for treatment of glioblastoma. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience.

April 25, 2016

Cameron J. Turtle, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’13-’16) and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, successfully refined a cancer immunotherapy treatment, resulting in no detectable disease in 27 of 29 adult patients (93%) with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL. The pioneering technique uses two subsets of genetically engineered immune T-cells from the patient (CD19 CAR-T cells) to target and attack the cancer. The promising results were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

April 19, 2016

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) named several Damon Runyon scientists as 2016 recipients of its prestigious awards.

AACR Princess Takamatsu Memorial Lectureship: William G. Kaelin, Jr., MD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Chair of Clinical Investigator Award Committee), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston

AACR-CRI Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology: Ronald Levy, MD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Innovation Award Committee Member), Stanford University, Stanford

AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chemistry in Cancer Research: James Bradner, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ’11-’13), Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Cambridge

March 28, 2016

Ash Alizadeh, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’14-’17) and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, developed an enhanced technique that significantly increases the ability to accurately identify and sequence DNA from cancer cells circulating in a person’s blood. The technique, called “iDES-enhanced CAPP-Seq,” can be used to non-invasively identify tumor-specific mutations. The hope is that such “liquid biopsies” of easily obtained blood samples could eventually replace the need to surgically obtain tumor tissue for analysis. Their results were published in Nature Biotechnology.

March 23, 2016

Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14) of the Broad Institute, Cambridge, and Jennifer A. Doudna, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor, Former Fellowship Award Committee Member) of the University of California, Berkeley, were announced as recipients of the prestigious Canada Gairdner International Award for 2016 "for development of CRISPR-CAS as a genome editing tool for eukaryotic cells.” They are among five scientists honored for pioneering accomplishments in this field. 

March 18, 2016

Adam de la Zerda, PhD (Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Scientist ‘13, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘11-‘12) of Stanford University, Stanford, and colleagues, reported the success of a new technique called MOZART that enables 3D real-time imaging of individual cells or even molecules in a living animal. They were able to provide the first glimpse under the skin of a living animal, showing intricate details in the lymph and blood vessels. The technique could one day allow scientists to detect tumors at the earliest stage, to monitor how a tumor is responding to treatment, or to understand how individual cells break free from a tumor and travel to distant sites. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

March 18, 2016

Douglas K. Graham, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’07-’12), of Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, and colleagues, reported that a novel compound called MRX-2843 has shown promise in preclinical studies; it blocked the growth of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells, led to a significant level of cancer cell death and more than doubled the median days of survival in laboratory models with a drug-resistant form of the disease. MRX-2843 is effective at targeting cancer cells with activated MERTK protein. They hope to obtain FDA approval to test the promising drug in adults and children with AML. The findings were published in the journal JCI Insight.

March 3, 2016

Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues, reported an analysis of data from two long-term epidemiologic studies showing that regular use of aspirin significantly reduces the overall risk of cancer. Their findings suggest that the use of aspirin may complement, but not replace, the preventive benefits of colonoscopy and other methods of cancer screening. The study was published in JAMA Oncology and featured in The New York Times.

February 29, 2016

Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD (Nadia’s Gift Foundation Innovator ’12-’15) and colleagues at the Abramson Cancer Center at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, reported the discovery of how macrophage immune cells can be “re-educated” by an experimental immune therapy (CD40 antibodies) to help break down the scaffolding that surrounds and protects pancreatic cancer from chemotherapy. They also identified a role for several factors, including chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2) and interferon gamma (IFN-g), that are released by the immune system after treatment with CD40 antibodies, and cooperate to redirect macrophages to attack cancer. The researchers are hopeful that their findings will spark further clinical interest. The study was published in the scientific journal Cancer Discovery.

February 10, 2016

Madhav Dhodapkar, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘02-‘07) of Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, and colleagues have determined that chronic stimulation of the immune system by lipids made in the context of inflammation underlies the origins of at least a third of all myelomas, a type of cancer affecting plasma cells. The study suggests that newer approaches to lower the levels of these lipids in patients with precursors for myeloma. Potentially, this could be achieved with drugs or lifestyle changes to reduce the levels of lipids to lower the risk of cancer. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

February 10, 2016

Himisha Beltran, MD (Damon Runyon-Gordon Family Clinical Investigator ’13-’16) of Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, and colleagues, used next-generation sequencing technologies to analyze neuroendocrine prostate cancer, an aggressive resistant form of cancer which sometimes develops in certain patients. The researchers examined resistance in samples collected from 81 patients and discovered the distinctive genetic, epigenetic and molecular features that underlie neuroendocrine prostate cancer. Their findings may enable researchers to develop biomarkers to help identify this subset of patients with prostate cancer less likely to respond to the next line of hormonal-based therapies. In addition, this data may be used to develop new therapeutic approaches for patients. The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

January 20, 2016

Piero D. Dalerba, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘16-‘17), of Columbia University Medical Center, New York, and colleagues, have identified a biomarker, the CDX2 gene, that could be used to predict which stage II colon cancer patients may benefit from chemotherapy after surgery to prevent a recurrence of their disease. They found that cancers that do not express the gene have a worse prognosis than those that do. The study was published in the online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

January 6, 2016

Mark A. Lemmon, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ’97-‘98, Damon Runyon Fellow ’93-’96) of Yale University, New Haven, and colleagues at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia reported that a next-generation ALK inhibitor drug, called PF-06463922, shows promise in treating pediatric neuroblastoma. In animal models, it caused rapid and sustained tumor regression and was more effective than the FDA-approved ALK inhibitor crizotinib. This new drug is currently being tested in a phase 1/2 clinical trial of an ALK-driven subtype of lung cancer in adults. The researchers aim to pursue clinical development of this agent for treating children with an ALK-driven subtype of neuroblastoma. The study results were published in the journal Cancer Discovery.

January 6, 2016

David G. Kirsch, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator '08-'10, Innovation Award Committee Member) at the Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, and colleagues, have tested a new injectable agent that causes cancer cells in a tumor to fluoresce, potentially increasing a surgeon's ability to locate and remove all of a cancerous tumor on the first attempt. The study reports that in 15 patients undergoing surgery for soft-tissue sarcoma or breast cancer, the injectable agent called LUM015, identified cancerous tissue in human patients without adverse effects. The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine and featured in Time Magazine.