New Discoveries and Honors

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

February 19, 2018

The big story in cancer research is the recent success of immunotherapy, which involves training and reengineering the immune system to kill cancers. The New York Times featured four women whose rare, aggressive ovarian cancers were unexpectedly cured with immunotherapy. This story resulted from research by Dmitriy Zamarin, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '13-'16) of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, who studied these patients to understand why they responded to this treatment (nivolumab/Opdivo). In addition, two other Damon Runyon alumni were featured.  Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator '03-'08) of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, led the clinical trials for the first FDA-approved immunotherapy and continues research to understand why it works in some patients, but not others.  Eliezer M. Van Allen, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '15-'18) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, identified a genetic mutation that may explain why these patients and those with other unique cancers have responded to this therapy, which may help identify others who might benefit from immunotherapy.

February 1, 2018

Helen M. Piwnica-Worms, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’84-’85, Former Fellowship Award Committee Member) of MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, received the 2018 Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Research from Stand Up to Cancer. She and her collaborator will apply their expertise in DNA damage repair mechanisms and imaging mass cytometry to investigate how the immune system recognizes breast cancer and devise new treatment combinations for more effective treatments. 

January 31, 2018

Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14) of the Broad Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, was named one of three recipients of the 2018 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science. The awards from the Vilcek Foundation recognize young foreign-born biomedical scientists, 38 years old or younger, who demonstrate outstanding early achievement.  He is recognized for his groundbreaking work in the field of CRISPR genome editing.  Watch a video of Feng describing his research and sharing his personal story. 

January 29, 2018

Amanda Balboni Iniguez, PhD (Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellow ’15-’19) and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported that a class of cancer drugs called CDK inhibitors may be able to disarm a gene that causes Ewing sarcoma, the second most common form of bone tumor in young people. They showed in mouse models of Ewing sarcoma that CDK12 inhibitors could slow down tumor growth and extend life. This class of drugs was first developed in 2014 by Nathanael Gray, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ’08-’10). Further studies showed that a CDK12 inhibitor combined with another drug, called a PARP inhibitor, could deliver a lethal punch, stopping the cancer. Even more promising, the drug combination had no toxic effect on the bone marrow of the mice. The study was published in the journal Cancer Cell.

January 17, 2018

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will honor 19 individuals with awards in recognition of their extraordinary scientific achievements in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological, and medical sciences.  Congratulations to Damon Runyon alumnus and mentor Howard Y. Chang, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘06-‘08), of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, who will receive the 2018 NAS Award in Molecular Biology for the discovery of long noncoding RNAs and the invention of genomic technologies.