New Discoveries and Honors

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

December 12, 2011

Catherine J. Wu, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘07-‘12) and Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, led the first large-scale genomics study of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In tumor samples from 91 patients, they identified nine commonly mutated genes – five of which have been linked to CLL for the first time.

December 8, 2011

David E. Lebwohl, MD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘86-‘87) of Novartis, East Hanover, and colleagues, reported results of a Phase III clinical trial testing the treatment combination of everolimus (Afinitor), which blocks a protein known to affect blood vessel growth in cancer cells, and the hormone therapy exemestane (Aromasin). 724 metastatic breast cancer patients with hormone receptor-positive tumors were enrolled in the trial.

November 22, 2011

Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and colleagues, discovered a metabolic pathway unique to some tumors. The tumor-specific pathway is dependent on the amino acid glutamine and reverses many of the chemical reactions of the Krebs cycle, used by normal cells. This new finding could provide a new target for drugs that could specifically target cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

November 9, 2011

Mark A. Lemmon, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘97-‘98, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘93-‘96) of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues, reported new findings that will allow physicians to identify which neuroblastoma patients are most likely to respond to crizotinib (Xalkori). The drug was recently approved for treatment of certain lung cancers. It targets a protein called anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) which is mutated in about ten percent of children with deadly neuroblastoma tumors.

October 26, 2011

Naoko Kobayashi, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘91-‘94) and colleagues at University of California, Los Angeles, reported results of a short-term Phase II clinical trial demonstrating anti-cancer benefits of fish oil. Men who ate a low-fat diet with fish oil supplements for four to six weeks before having their prostate removed had slower cancer cell growth in their prostate tissue than men who ate a typical high-fat Western diet.

October 17, 2011

A team of researchers including Wendy S. Garrett, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘09), Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98), Akinyemi I. Ojesina, MBBS, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘08-‘11) and Ramesh A. Shivdasani, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘98-‘99) at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute, Cambridge, reported high levels of a specific type of bacteria, Fusobacterium, in colorectal tumor samples.

October 14, 2011

Judith Lieberman, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘84-‘86) of the Immune Disease Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues, reported the first description of competing endogenous RNAs (ceRNAs) and their function. ceRNAs comprise a complex regulatory network that controls gene expression through binding of other RNAs called microRNAs. This study demonstrated that PTEN, a tumor suppressor, is regulated by 150 ceRNAs in human prostate and colon cancer cell lines.

October 9, 2011

Julien Sage, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘05-‘07) of Stanford University, Stanford, and colleagues, reported a crucial role for Hedgehog signaling in the development of small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). They demonstrated that blocking Hedgehog signaling inhibited the growth of SCLC, particularly after chemotherapy. Their findings suggest that Hedgehog pathway inhibition may be a promising therapeutic strategy to slow disease progression and delay cancer recurrence in SCLC patients.

September 30, 2011

The intent of the NIH High-Risk 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.

September 27, 2011

Peter S. Nelson, MD (Clinical Investigator Mentor, Damon Runyon Scholar ‘02-‘04) of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, and colleagues, conducted the first comprehensive assessment of the genome of advanced, lethal prostate cancer. They discovered a number of recurrent genetic mutations common to advanced prostate cancer that may contribute to disease progression and resistance to commonly used therapies.

September 20, 2011

Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston, and Kornelia Polyak, MD, PhD (Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, are two of this year’s recipients of the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research. The awards recognize three young investigators under the age of forty-six for their exceptionally innovative work that has helped to advance the field of cancer research.

September 10, 2011

James E. Bradner, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘11-‘13) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and colleagues, identified the protein Brd4 as a critical requirement for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) disease maintenance. Brd4 functions to control expression of Myc, a protein frequently disrupted in many cancers. Blocking Brd4, using either RNA interference or a drug called JQ1, led to anti-leukemic effects such as cancer cell death and a delay in disease progression.

September 9, 2011

Ramesh A. Shivdasani, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘98-‘99) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and colleagues discovered a mechanism for how cancer cells become resistant to cetuximab/Erbitux, which is used to treat colorectal cancer or squamous cell cancer of the head and neck. They reported that a protein called ERBB2 allows cells to remain unresponsive to the drug.

July 28, 2011

Researchers from the Broad Institute, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, including Joseph A. Califano, III, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘01-‘06), Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98), Kenneth W. Kinzler, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award Committee Member), and Todd R.

July 12, 2011

Hai Yan, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘05-‘07) of Duke University, Durham, Kenneth W. Kinzler, PhD (Innovation Award Committee Member) of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and colleagues identified two genes that may regulate telomere length in cancer cells. Telomeres are “DNA caps” that protect the ends of chromosomes; telomerase is the enzyme that is normally used to maintain telomeres.

July 7, 2011

Jeremy N. Rich, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘04-‘09) of Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, and colleagues, reported new findings about brain cancer stem cells. Malignant gliomas, aggressive brain tumors with limited treatment options, contain highly tumorigenic subpopulations of cancer stem cells. The researchers identified an enzyme, nitric oxide synthase-2 (NOS2), required for these stem cells to grow and seed tumors. High NOS2 levels correlate with decreased survival in patients with glioma.

June 28, 2011

Jean Y. Tang, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of Stanford University, Stanford, and colleagues, reported analysis of data from the Women’s Health Initiative. They found that women with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, such as basal cell or squamous cell cancers, who took a calcium-vitamin D combination developed 57 percent fewer melanomas than women with similar histories who were not given the supplements.

June 19, 2011

Amanda Paulovich, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘02-‘03), Peter S. Nelson, MD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘02-‘04, Clinical Investigator Mentor), and colleagues at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, used a highly sensitive and targeted analytical technology, selected reaction monitoring mass spectrometry, to test candidate protein biomarkers. This technology allows highly specific and sensitive measurement of many proteins from a small drop of blood.

June 7, 2011

Nathanael S. Gray, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘08-‘10), Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported that the gene FGFR1 is amplified in 21% of squamous cell lung cancers. In cell lines, inhibition of FGFR blocked cell growth. These findings suggest that FGFR may be a promising therapeutic target for these lung cancers. The report was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

June 1, 2011

William C. Hahn, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘98-‘99), Serena J. Silver, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘05-‘06), Kornelia Polyak, MD, PhD (Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member), and colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported new findings about stem cells in triple-negative breast cancers, which tend to be aggressive and highly resistant to current therapies. The researchers discovered that these cells have elevated activity of genes in the Jak2/Stat3 pathway.

May 3, 2011

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, two Damon Runyon alumni were inducted this May:
Alexander D. Johnson, PhD (Fellow ‘81-‘83 and Former Sponsor), Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of California, San Francisco

April 6, 2011

Monte Winslow, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘09), Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98, former Fellowship Sponsor), Tyler Jacks, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee Member and Fellowship Sponsor) and colleagues at MIT, Cambridge, identified the important role of a gene called NKX2-1 in metastasis of lung adenocarcinoma. In animal studies, the researchers linked reduced activity of the gene to enhanced tumor seeding activity and metastasis.

April 2, 2011

John V. Heymach, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator  ‘04-‘09), Waun Ki Hong, MD (Former Clinical Investigator Committee Member and Mentor), and colleagues at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, reported the identification of two sets of genes that predict response to Tarceva/erlotinib, a targeted therapy used for treatment of certain non-small cell lung cancers.

March 25, 2011

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has recognized leading cancer researchers whose work has significantly contributed to progress in the fight against cancer.  Among those honored are 5 Damon Runyon scientists:

March 24, 2011

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05) and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, reported the success of an experimental antibody that activates the immune protein CD40 and targets pancreatic cancer. In a preliminary study, on average, patients with advanced pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma who were treated with the CD40 antibody survived longer and experienced temporary tumor regression.

March 23, 2011

Adrian P. Bird, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘71-‘73) of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh has been named one of five recipients of the 2011 Canada Gairdner International Award. This highly prestigious award recognizes individuals who have made significant tangible achievements in the field of medical science. Dr.

March 23, 2011

A team of scientists including Rafael Fonseca, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05), William C. Hahn, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘98-‘99), Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) and Todd R. Golub, MD (Innovation Award Committee Member, Board Member) reported the first-ever sequencing of genomes from 38 patient samples of multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.

March 23, 2011

Craig J. Ceol, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘05-‘07) of University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, and colleagues, reported the identification of the gene SETDB1 which is capable of accelerating melanoma formation in zebrafish. SETDB1 cooperates with BRAF(V600E), the most common mutation in human melanoma; the SETDB1 gene encodes a histone modifying enzyme often upregulated in those tumors. This finding supports the model that disruption of histone modification promotes cancer.

March 16, 2011

Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) of The Rockefeller University, New York, and James A. Thomson, VMD, PhD (Current Fellowship Sponsor) of the Morgridge Institute for Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have been named recipients of the 11th annual Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. They are honored for their pioneering work in the field of stem cell biology.

February 24, 2011

President Obama appointed William R. Sellers, MD (Board Member, Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘01-‘05) to the National Cancer Advisory Board. The board is charged with advising the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Director of the National Cancer Institute.

February 11, 2011

Tobias J.E. Carling, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Doris Duke Clinical Investigator ‘10-‘13) and colleagues at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, identified novel genetic mutations that can give rise to tumors of the hormone-producing adrenal gland (aldosterone-producing adrenal adenoma) and severe hypertension (high blood pressure). By sequencing the genes from these tumors and comparing them to normal DNA, the researchers identified mutations in a potassium channel gene, KCNJ5.

February 10, 2011

A team of researchers including David E. Lebwohl, MD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘86-‘87), Novartis Oncology, Florham Park, New Jersey, reported the results of a Phase 3 trial demonstrating the efficacy of Everolimus/Afinitor in patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer. The median progression-free survival was 11.0 months with everolimus as compared with 4.6 months with placebo, with limited side effects. As these patients have few treatment options, this finding is likely to be rapidly applied in the clinic.

February 1, 2011

Hai Yan, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar’05-‘07) of Duke University Medical Center, Durham, and colleagues, reported that levels of specific metabolites (products of metabolism) were altered by up to 50-fold in brain tumor cells containing mutations in the genes IDH1 and IDH2. Previous studies had identified these genetic mutations in brain tumors; this research links IDH gene mutation to changes in cancer cell metabolism.

January 19, 2011

L. Stirling Churchman, PhD (Dale F. Frey Scientist ‘11, Merck Fellow ‘08-‘11) of the University of California, San Francisco, developed a new technique that allows the process of transcription (how the cell makes RNA from the DNA template) to be studied in living cells at high resolution. Using this technology, researchers will now be able to watch transcription as it is happening, leading to important insights into how genes are turned on and off.