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 26, 2013

A team of researchers including Akinyemi I. Ojesina, MBBS, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘08-‘11) and Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute, Cambridge, reported genome sequencing results for 115 cervical cancer patient tumor samples. The researchers identified genetic mutations not previously found in cervical cancer, including at least one for which targeted treatments exist for other forms of cancer. The findings also provide further insight into the role human papillomavirus (HPV) plays in the development of cervical cancer, supporting vaccination against HPV as an important preventative strategy against the disease. 


December 2, 2013

Nathanael S. Gray, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘08-‘10), of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, was honored as the recipient of the prestigious 2013 Meyenburg Cancer Research Award. He was recognized for his groundbreaking work in developing first-in-class chemical inhibitors for protein kinases, which are potential targets to treat cancer and other diseases.


October 21, 2013

Election to the Institute of Medicine is one of the highest honors that can be earned in the fields of medicine and health.  In recognition of their outstanding achievements, two Damon Runyon alumni were inducted this month:


Helen M. Piwnica-Worms, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘84-‘85, Former Fellowship Award Committee Member), The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston

Danny F. Reinberg, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘83-‘85), New York University School of Medicine, New York City


October 7, 2013

James E. Rothman, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘76-‘78) of Yale University, New Haven, was named a recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He shares the honor with Randy W. Schekman (Former Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) and Thomas C. Südhof “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells.”  Dr. Rothman is the twelfth Damon Runyon Scientist to be named a Nobel Laureate. 


September 30, 2013

The intent of the NIH High-Risk High-Reward 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.


2013 NIH Pioneer Awards:

Michael Z. Lin, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘13-‘15), Stanford University, Stanford

Mark J. Zylka, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘00-‘03), University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


2013 NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards:

Jason M. Crawford, PhD (Dale F. Frey Scientist ‘12-‘14, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘09-‘11), Yale University, New Haven

Elizabeth S. Sattely, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘08-‘10), Stanford University, Stanford


September 19, 2013

Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health reported the results of a large, long-term study demonstrating that 40% of all colorectal cancers could be prevented through regular colonoscopy screening. The new research also supports existing guidelines recommending that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer should have a colonoscopy every 10 years. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


August 15, 2013

The W. M. Keck Foundation awarded 2013 Medical Research Program Grants to scientists conducting high-risk research with the potential for transformative impact.  Three Damon Runyon scientists received grants of $1,000,000 each: 

Sreekanth H. Chalasani, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘07), Salk Institute, La Jolla

Joshua E. Elias, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘11-‘13), Stanford University, Stanford

Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘12-‘14), Broad Institute, Cambridge


August 6, 2013

Catherine J. Wu, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘07-‘12) and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported the success of a new strategy to boost leukemia patients’ immune systems after transplant. In a phase I clinical study, patients with advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) were given a “personalized” tumor vaccine composed of their own inactivated leukemia cells combined with an immune stimulant called GM-CSF. The vaccine strengthened the immune system’s ability to attack the cancer, resulting in remission in 72 percent of patients treated. These promising results were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


June 25, 2013

Andrew T. Chan, MD, MPH (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘08-‘13) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues, reported that the association between aspirin use and risk of colorectal cancer was affected by mutation of the gene BRAF. Researchers found that regular aspirin use was associated with a lower risk of BRAF-wild-type colorectal cancer but not with risk of BRAF-mutated cancer. These results were published in the journal JAMA.


June 4, 2013

Alice Tsang Shaw, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘04-‘05) of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues, reported that treatment with the investigational drug LDK378 resulted in an overall response rate of 60% to 78% in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with mutations in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. In March, LDK378 received Breakthrough Therapy designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). 


June 4, 2013

Marcia S. Brose, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘05-‘10) of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and colleagues, reported results from a Phase 3 clinical trial (DECISION trial) demonstrating that the FDA-approved drug Nexavar (sorafenib) stopped metastatic thyroid cancers from progressing – nearly doubling progression-free survival from 5.8 to 10.8 months. This result is particularly exciting because no new drugs have been approved for this form of thyroid cancer in 40 years. The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and featured in The Wall Street Journal.


June 2, 2013

Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and colleagues, reported the success of a new combination therapy for advanced metastatic melanoma. The therapy combines two drugs (Yervoy and nivolumab) to block “checkpoint” pathways, thus stimulating T cells in the immune system to attack cancers. In a Phase I clinical trial, the combination was demonstrated to be more effective than either drug administered alone. 65% of patients in the study showed halted disease progression, and 40% experienced tumor reduction. The researchers hope that this therapy might be effective for patients with other advanced cancers, like non-small cell lung cancer and renal cancer. The results were reported at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual meeting and published in The New England Journal of Medicine.


May 9, 2013

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) selected 27 of the nation’s top biomedical researchers to become new HHMI investigators. HHMI investigators are widely recognized for their creativity and research accomplishments. The new group of HHMI investigators were selected for their individual scientific excellence from a group of 1,155 applicants. Four of the new investigators are Damon Runyon alumni:


Chuan He, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘00-‘02), University of Chicago, Chicago

Neil Hunter, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘04-‘06), University of California, Davis

Ardem Patapoutian, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘96-‘99, Scholar ‘03-‘05), Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla

Russell E. Vance, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘01-‘04), University of California, Berkeley


April 30, 2013

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 April: 

Stephen M. Beverley, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘79-‘81), Marvin A. Brennecke Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Chair, Department of molecular microbiology, Washington University, St. Louis

Daniel A. Portnoy, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘83-‘85), Professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology, Department of molecular and cell biology, University of California, Berkeley

Robert H. Singer, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘70-‘72), Co-director, Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center, and Professor and Co-chair, Department of anatomy and structural biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Bronx


April 21, 2013

Matthew G. Vander Heiden, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘11-‘13, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘08) of MIT, Cambridge, and colleagues, reported the results of a large study analyzing gene expression data from 22 tumor types. They identified multiple changes in genes that regulate metabolism in cancer cells. The analysis also identified hundreds of potential drug targets that could block tumor growth. The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


April 11, 2013

James E. Bradner, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘11-‘13) of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and colleagues, discovered a set of powerful gene regulators -“super-enhancers” that control cell state and identity. Important for gene control in healthy cells, super-enhancers are co-opted by cancer cells to overexpress oncogenes that lead to aggressive tumors. Treatment of multiple myeloma tumor cells with the drug JQ1 blocked the super-enhancer of the MYC oncogene and resulted in tumor growth arrest. Researchers hope that novel cancer therapeutics can be developed against super-enhancers in other tumor types. These findings were published in the journal Cell.


April 1, 2013

Oren J. Becher, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ’12-’15) of Duke University, Durham, Laura A. Banaszynski, PhD (Angelo Family Fellow ‘08-‘11) of The Rockefeller University, New York, and colleagues, reported results that, for the first time, link a mutated histone protein to a rare brain stem cancer in children called diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG). This histone typically silences expression of certain genes; when the histone is mutated in DIPG, cancer-promoting genes are aberrantly turned on. This study was published in the journal Science


March 20, 2013

Renier J. Brentjens, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘06-‘11) and colleagues at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, reported the success of immunotherapy treatment of adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Patients were treated with their own T immune cells, which had been genetically modified to target and attack the cancer cells. The treatment induced rapid remissions in these patients. The exciting findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine and featured in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.


March 18, 2013

Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) of The Rockefeller University, New York, is one of three recipients of the Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation Medical Research Awards in Cancer Research. She is honored for her extraordinary achievement, creativity and distinction in the field of skin stem cells. Matthew P. Scott, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, is also a recipient of the award.  


March 11, 2013

Jean Y. Tang, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘11-‘14) of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, and colleagues, reported that women who take aspirin regularly have a reduced risk of developing melanoma. Overall the risk is reduced by over 20 percent. The findings, based on a study of nearly 60,000 women aged 50 to 79, suggest the anti-inflammatory effects of aspirin may help protect against this type of skin cancer. The study was published in the journal Cancer.


February 14, 2013

Catherine J. Wu, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘07-‘12), Matthew L. Meyerson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘95-‘98), and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, and the Broad Institute, Cambridge, demonstrated how genetic mutations evolve over time in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) cells. The researchers used next-generation gene-sequencing technology to monitor genetic changes in tissue samples from cancer patients, demonstrating that subsets of cells in each tumor contain different genetic makeup. These genetic mutations can predict how patients respond to different therapies and whether CLL will recur after treatment. The studies, published in the journal Cell, are likely to be important for development of improved therapies.


February 3, 2013

David G. Kirsch, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘08-‘10), and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, reported that epidermal growth factor (EGF) speeds the recovery of blood-making hematopoietic stem cells after exposure to radiation. Mice with high levels of EGF were protected from radiation damage. EGF may be able to accelerate the recovery of the blood system in cancer patients treated with chemotherapy or radiation. The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine


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