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 9, 2016

N. Lynn Henry, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’10-’15) of Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, presented a study demonstrating that a drug typically used to treat depression and anxiety (duloxetine/Cymbalta) can provide significant reductions in joint pain for women with early stage breast cancer. Many postmenopausal women are treated with aromatase inhibitors (AIs) that stop the production of estrogen and essentially starve hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells.

November 28, 2016

Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) of The Rockefeller University, New York, was announced the recipient of the 2016 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science. She is the 11th recipient of the Prize, which honors women scientists with a "stellar record" of research accomplishments who have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science. Her innovative use of reverse genetics has helped redefine the study of skin diseases and cancer stem cells.

November 9, 2016

Ash Alizadeh (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’14-’17) and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine reported that circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) profiling by non-invasive liquid biopsy reveals distinct patterns of clonal evolution and allows accurate classification of tumor subtypes in lymphoma patients. This enables insights into the biology of how an indolent disease transitions into an aggressive and often fatal disease.

November 8, 2016

Maura L. Gillison, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘00-‘05) of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbus, was elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine. This is one of the country’s highest and most prestigious honors in the fields of health and medicine. She is recognized for having made fundamental contributions to demonstrating the link between the human papillomavirus virus (HPV) and head and neck cancers.

October 4, 2016

The NIH announced the 2016 recipients of awards within its High-Risk, High-Reward Research program. These awards are designed to support scientists proposing highly innovative approaches to major contemporary challenges in biomedical research. Of 88 total awards this year, six were granted to Damon Runyon Scientists. 

2016 Pioneer Award

Christine Mayr, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Innovator '13-'15), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York

2016 NIH New Innovator Award

September 21, 2016

Dianne K. Newman, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’88-‘89) of California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, was named one of 23 MacArthur Fellows for 2016. She is recognized for her innovative research investigating the role that bacteria have played in shaping the Earth and continue to play in modern biomedical contexts. The MacArthur Fellows Program awards five-year, unrestricted fellowships to individuals across all ages and fields who show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work. 

September 13, 2016

Congratulations to the six researchers named recipients of The Lasker Awards, among the most respected prizes in medicine. William G. Kaelin, Jr., MD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Chair of the Physician-Scientist Training Award Committee) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for his work to understand the pathway cells use to sense and adapt to changes in oxygen levels which led to the development of potential drugs for heart attack, stroke, and kidney cancer. Bruce M.

September 9, 2016

Arvin C. Dar, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator '14-'16) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, reported that a “scaffolding protein” called the kinase suppressor of Ras (KSR) could be targeted as a way to disrupt signaling from mutant Ras protein. About 25 percent of human cancers have mutations in the Ras protein that disrupt growth signals and cause tumor development.  The researchers tested over 170 compounds and discovered that one could effectively slow cancer growth.

September 7, 2016

Colleen Delaney, MD, MSc (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’07-’12) and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, developed a method for using umbilical cord stem cells as a source of donor material for transplant. This is important because the majority of patients in need of a hematopoietic-cell transplant do not have a matched related donor. The advance is particularly valuable for minorities and people of mixed-race background.

July 20, 2016

Amit J. Sabnis, MD (Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellow ’13-’17), of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues, demonstrated that cancer cells co-opt a cellular “chaperone” protein called HSP70 (heat-shock protein 70) to promote their growth. By blocking that pathway, the scientists were able to kill cells derived from patients with rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a rare muscle-tissue cancer that affects children.

July 14, 2016

Pavan Bachireddy, MD (Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist ’15-’19), Catherine J. Wu, MD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ’07-’12), and colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported that a new treatment approach, using repeated doses of the immunotherapy drug ipilimumab, may be able to restore a complete remission for some patients with advanced blood cancers that relapse after stem-cell transplant.

July 6, 2016

Daniel A. Heller, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’10-’12), and colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, reported that radiation-guided nanoparticles may offer a new approach for penetrating the vascular barrier that often prevents current nanomedicines from reaching metastatic tumors. In a mouse model of lung cancer and metastatic melanoma and breast tumors, the nanoparticles selectively delivered chemotherapy drugs to the tumors. The researchers hope to translate these findings to clinical trials.

May 30, 2016

Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators Aude G. Chapuis, MD (’15-’17) of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Cassian Yee, MD (’01-’06), of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD (’03-’08), of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and colleagues, have successfully treated a patient with metastatic melanoma by combining two different types of immunotherapy, harnessing the patient’s own immune system to attack and destroy the cancer.

May 4, 2016

The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance has announced the winners of the 2016 Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research. The annual prize aims to catalyze collaboration among young investigators, academics, nonprofits, investors, and the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. The prize-winners will each receive funding for up to three years. Two of the seven awards were granted to Damon Runyon scientists:  

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 

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.