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 17, 2012

Adam de la Zerda, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘11-‘12) of Stanford University, Stanford, was named to the Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” list in Science and Healthcare for 2012. Adam is applying nanotechnology and novel medical imaging to look inside tumors and gather information on cellular changes that drive cancer progression. Those on this list “represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation.”

November 29, 2012

Jing Yang, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘00-‘03) and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, demonstrated how cancer cells control a developmental process known as epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) to metastasize, breaking free and spreading to other parts of the body, where they proliferate and grow into secondary tumors.

October 2, 2012

Sarkis K. Mazmanian, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘08-‘10) of California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, was named one of 23 MacArthur Fellows for 2012. He is recognized for his innovative research elucidating the critical role of bacterial microbes in human health, which could lead to new therapies or preventive treatments for a variety of human diseases including cancer.

September 5, 2012

Mark B. Gerstein, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘94-‘96) of Yale University, New Haven, and colleagues, announced the exciting results of the ENCODE (Encyclopedia of DNA Elements) project.

August 23, 2012

Linda Hsieh-Wilson, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘97-‘00), of California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, reported that tumor cells modify their proteins through addition of carbohydrate (glycosylation or GlcNAc) in response to their surroundings, which allows the cancer cells to survive. When the researchers blocked the addition of GlcNAc to phosphofructokinase 1 (PFK1), a protein involved in cell metabolism, cancer cell proliferation and tumor formation were reduced in mice.

August 9, 2012

Joshua D. Schiffman, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and colleagues, reported results of a genomic study of Ewing sarcoma (ES), the second most common bone tumor in children and young adults. By examining 40 primary tumors and 12 metastatic lesions, the researchers identified genetic factors predictive of overall survival as well as a particular gene deletion (RELN gene) that is unique to metastatic lesions.

August 2, 2012

Zsofia K. Stadler, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, led a genomic study of testicular cancer that identified “copy number variations” (CNVs) as a cause of cancer. Rather than being triggered by a single gene mutation, these tumors can be caused by CNVs (too many or too few copies of a gene). CNVs occurred spontaneously in 7% of patients with early-onset testicular germ cell tumors.

August 1, 2012

Luis F. Parada, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘85-‘86) and colleagues at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, used genetic techniques to track cancer cells. They found that glioblastoma brain cancers contained a small number of stem cells that are resistant to chemotherapy and can give rise to tumor cells. This study—along with two separate studies conducted independently by other research groups—confirms the existence of cancer stem cells, and the researchers are now searching for ways to kill these cells.

August 1, 2012

Andrew L. Feldman, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘09-‘14), and colleagues at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, reported the completion of the world’s first genome-wide sequencing analysis of peripheral T-cell lymphomas, a highly aggressive cancer of the immune system. The team found 13 genetic abnormalities, five of which involve genes related to the tumor suppressor p53. These findings will ultimately be used to improve diagnostic tests and develop targeted treatments for this type of lymphoma.

July 23, 2012

Valerie Horsley, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘07) of Yale University, New Haven, and Georgios Skiniotis, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘07) of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, were named recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

June 6, 2012

Jean Y. Tang, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues, reported the success of a newly approved drug, vismodegib/Erivedge, in dramatically shrinking basal cell carcinoma (BCC) skin cancers and preventing new ones from forming in patients with basal cell nevus syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes dozens to thousands of skin cancers on each patient’s body.

May 16, 2012

Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05) and colleagues at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, reported that the drug daclizumab (Zenapax) improved the survival of breast cancer patients taking a cancer vaccine by 30 percent (seven months), compared to those patients not taking the drug.

May 9, 2012

A team of scientists from the Broad Institute, Cambridge, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, led by Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) and Todd R. Golub, MD (Innovation Award Committee Member, Board Member) sequenced the whole genomes of 25 metastatic melanoma tumors. Analysis of these sequences indicated that the rates of genetic mutation rose along with chronic sun exposure in patients. As expected, the scientists detected known mutations in genes that regulate cell growth.

May 1, 2012

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, three Damon Runyon alumni were inducted this May:
Rachel D. Green, PhD (Fellow ‘93-‘96, Current Innovation Award Committee, Fellowship Sponsor), Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore

April 30, 2012

MCL1 encodes a protein that helps keep cells alive (anti-apoptotic); it is frequently overexpressed in cancer. Joseph T. Opferman, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘01-‘04) and colleagues at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, reported that different forms of MCL-1 reside in distinct locations in the cell’s mitochondria and exhibit separable functions.

April 26, 2012

Sujun Hua, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘10-‘13), Costas A. Lyssiotis, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘10-‘13), Ji-Hye Paik, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘08) and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, discovered a new role for the Kras oncogene in controlling cell metabolism. They reported that a genetic mutation in Kras linked to initiation of pancreatic cancer also manipulates metabolic pathways to support tumor growth and progression.

April 16, 2012

Guo Wei, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘05-‘08), Todd R. Golub, MD (Innovation Award Committee Member, Board Member) and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Broad Institute, Cambridge, used chemical genomics to identify compounds that decrease activity of MCL1, a protein that helps keep cells alive (anti-apoptotic) and is frequently overexpressed in cancer. In addition, the researchers found that high expression of another gene, BCL-xL, confers resistance to MCL1 repression.

April 5, 2012

Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston, and colleagues, reported the role of a protein called β-catenin in chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) stem cells. They demonstrated that reducing β-catenin in combination with treatment with Gleevec/imatinib decreases CML stem cells in mice, without harming healthy cells.

March 28, 2012

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) named Damon Runyon Scientists recipients of awards that recognize their scientific achievements and significant contributions to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer. John Mendelsohn, MD (Damon Runyon Grantee ‘72-‘74 and former Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award Committee Member) of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, was honored with the AACR Margaret Foti Award for Leadership and Extraordinary Achievements in Cancer Research.

March 7, 2012

Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and colleagues, reported the results of a unique single-patient study, in which a melanoma patient was treated with the immunotherapeutic Yervoy in combination with local radiation to the site of one tumor.  Metastatic tumors all over the body disappeared.

February 29, 2012

Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) of The Rockefeller University, New York, has been named a recipient of the 2012 March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology. She will share the award with Howard Green, MD, of Harvard Medical School, Boston. The prize recognizes their revolutionary research in skin biology, which explains the molecular underpinnings of skin stem cells and inherited skin disorders, including cancers and certain birth defects. 

February 22, 2012

Ian Y. Wong, PhD (Damon Runyon-Merck Fellow ‘10-‘13) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Cambridge, and colleagues, developed a new microfluidic device that can isolate specific cells faster and more accurately than existing devices. These new devices could potentially be applied to the isolation of cancer cells from patient blood samples for use in diagnostics and personalized medicine. The study was published in Biophysical Journal

January 31, 2012

Alice Tsang Shaw, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘05) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Pierre P. Massion, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, and colleagues, reported the role of the ROS1 gene in certain non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC).

January 29, 2012

Rachael A. Clark, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and colleagues reported that the drug Campath (alemtuzumab) effectively treats patients with Leukemic cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (L-CTCL), a leukemia arising from a type of white blood cell called T-cells. This cancer can involve the skin and other organs, and patients often die within three years.

January 26, 2012

Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05) of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbus, and colleagues reported that the prevalence of oral HPV (human papillomavirus) infection is about 7 percent in the United States. The prevalence was higher among men than among women.  HPV-16, the high-risk strain linked to throat cancers and many cervical cancers, is detected in 1 percent of people.

January 12, 2012

In two parallel studies, Ralph J. DeBerardinis, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and Matthew G. Vander Heiden, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘11-‘13, Fellow ‘06-‘08) of MIT, Cambridge, and colleagues, reported the use of noninvasive imaging technology (magnetic resonance spectroscopy) to visualize whether glioma brain tumors have a particular genetic mutation called IDH.