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 3, 2015

Omar Abdel-Wahab, MD (Damon Runyon-Edward P. Evans Foundation Clinical Investigator ’13-’16) of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, received the 2015 Joanne Levy, MD, Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement from the American Society of Hematology. Stephen T. Oh, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Doris Duke Foundation Clinical Investigator ’14-’17) of Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis received the 2016 ASH Scholar Award for Basic Junior Faculty.


November 5, 2015

Jihye Yun, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘11-‘13) of Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, and a team of collaborators including Christine I. Chio, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘13-‘17), and Jihye Paik, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘06-‘08), have demonstrated that high doses of vitamin C were capable of destroying colon cancer cells carrying common mutations in the KRAS or BRAF genes by suppressing an enzyme necessary to metabolize energy, effectively starving the cells. Next, they hope to start clinical trials, selecting participants based on the genetic drivers of their particular cancers. These findings were published in the prestigious journal Science


October 7, 2015

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich (Former Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) and Aziz Sancar (Former Damon Runyon Fellowship Sponsor) “for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments.” We congratulate two Damon Runyon alumni, Robert S. Lahue, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘85-‘88 in the Modrich lab) and David Mu, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘94-‘97 in the Sancar lab), who each made seminal contributions to the body of scientific knowledge that resulted in this year’s Nobel Prize.  


October 6, 2015

The NIH announced the 2015 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 78 total awards this year, seven were granted to Damon Runyon Scientists.


Pioneer Award:

Giovanni Bosco, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '99-'01), Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine

Craig Montell, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '83-'85), University of California Santa Barbara

New Innovator Award:

Eric J. Bennett, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '08-'11), University of California San Diego

Jesse H. Goldberg, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '06-'08), Cornell University

Daniel F. Jarosz, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '08-'10), Stanford University

Cole Trapnell, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '11-'14, Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Scientist '14-'15), University of Washington

Transformative Research Award:

Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator '12-'14), The Broad Institute


September 29, 2015

Howard Y. Chang, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Scholar ‘06-‘08) of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, was named one of three investigators named recipients of this year’s Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research. The award, given by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, recognizes promising investigators aged 45 or younger for their efforts in advancing cancer research. He is honored for his discovery of genetic material called long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) and analysis of their roles in helping cells sense where they are in the body.


September 28, 2015

Ryan B. Corcoran, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '12-'17), Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues reported the results of a Phase I/II clinical study demonstrating that the combination of the BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib (Tafinlar) and the MEK inhibitor trametinib (Mekinist) produced responses in some patients with BRAF V600–mutant metastatic colorectal cancer, ranging from stable disease to complete response. Interestingly, they also identified mutations in the gene PIK3CA in responding patients. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.


September 10, 2015

Elizabeth S. Sattely, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '08-'10) and colleagues at Stanford University reported that they were able to produce a common cancer drug called etoposide—previously only available from an endangered plant—in a common laboratory plant. This work could lead to a more stable supply of the drug and allow scientists to produce even safer and more effective versions of the drug. The technique could potentially be applied to other plants and drugs, creating a less expensive and more stable source for those drugs. These results were published in the journal Science


July 27, 2015

Lara E. Davis, MD (Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellow ‘12-‘15) of Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, and colleagues, described the first cancer patient treated in a Phase 1 clinical trial of LOXO-101, a novel drug that inhibits a protein called TRK. This patient had advanced soft tissue sarcoma which had metastasized to the lungs. Genetic analysis of the tumor indicated an alteration in the gene encoding TRK (tropomyosin receptor kinase). Following multiple unsuccessful courses of other treatments, the patient was treated with LOXO-101. With 4 months of treatment, CT scans demonstrated almost complete tumor disappearance of the largest tumors. The researchers will continue these encouraging studies of LOXO-101 for treatment of TRK-positive advanced cancers. This report was published in the journal Cancer Discovery.


July 20, 2015

Ash Alizadeh, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘14-‘17) of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, and colleagues reported an analysis of gene expression profiles from ~18,000 human tumors with overall survival outcomes across 39 subtypes of cancer. They developed and applied CIBERSORT, a novel computational approach for associating immune system biomarkers with cancer survival. The researchers hope that these analyses will increase our understanding of cancer biology, aid in the development of new drugs for cancer patients, and enable better prediction of which patients will respond to new and emerging anti-cancer therapies. The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine.


July 13, 2015

Julien Sage, PhD (Fellowship Committee Member, Damon Runyon Scholar ‘05-‘07), of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, with a team of international colleagues, sequenced the genomes of 110 small cell lung cancers (SCLC), one of the deadliest human cancers. These studies confirmed that loss of the two tumor suppressor genes, Rb and p53, is required for tumor initiation. Importantly, they also identified new therapeutic targets such as the Notch signaling pathway. This first comprehensive study of genome alterations in SCLC uncovered several key biological processes and identified candidate therapeutic targets for this form of cancer. The results were published in the prestigious journal Nature.


July 7, 2015

James M. Olson, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award Committee Member, Clinical Investigator ‘02-‘07), of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the University of Washington, Seattle, developed “Tumor Paint” (BLZ-100) to allow surgeons to better see the tumor margins with high resolution in real time during surgery. This can aid surgeons in removing all of the cancerous tissue while sparing normal cells. A wide range of preclinical studies have demonstrated the potential of this technology. The FDA has granted Orphan Drug Designation to the compound. BLZ-100 is currently being tested in Phase I clinical trials for children’s brain cancers, adult gliomas, adult sarcoma, and various solid tumors, including breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer.


July 1, 2015

Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06), and colleagues at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, La Jolla, used clinical data collected over the past decade through a U.S. cancer registry to demonstrate that the survival of adult patients with low-grade glioma brain cancer has significantly improved. Survival has increased from 44 months (in 1999) to 57 months (in 2010). The findings were published in the journal Neuro-Oncology: Clinical Practice.


May 22, 2015

Dennis L. Buckley, PhD (Damon Runyon Merck Fellow ’14-’18), James E. Bradner, MD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ’11-’13), and colleagues at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, reported the development of a new strategy that uses tumor cells’ own machinery to disintegrate and dispose of proteins that drive cancer growth. When tested in laboratory samples of leukemia cells and in animal models of the disease, the approach caused cancer cells to die much more quickly than with conventional targeted therapies. This chemical technology may offer a way to improve many cancer drug molecules, develop new inhibitors of “undruggable” proteins and overcome drug resistance. This study was published in the journal Science.


May 19, 2015

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced its newest class of 26 Investigators, some of the nation’s top biomedical researchers who will receive the flexible support necessary to move their research in creative new directions.  Four Damon Runyon scientists were selected for their individual scientific excellence.  Their appointments will begin in September 2015. 


Joseph D. Mougous, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '05-'07), University of Washington, Seattle

Pardis C. Sabeti, MD, DPhil (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06), Harvard University, Cambridge

Joanna K. Wysocka, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '04-'06), Stanford University, Stanford

Jennifer A. Zallen, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '00-'03, current Fellowship Sponsor), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York


May 7, 2015

The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance has announced the winners of the 2015 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. Three of the six awards were granted to Damon Runyon scientists:


Arvin C. Dar, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ’14-’16), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York

Moritz F. Kircher, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ’14-’16), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York

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


April 28, 2015

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 April:


DAMON RUNYON FELLOWS


Brenda L. Bass, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ’85-’88), University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City

Jeffery F. Miller, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow ‘86-’89), University of California, Los Angeles

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


DAMON RUNYON AWARD COMMITTEE MEMBERS


Riccardo Dalla-Favera, MD (Former Fellowship Award Committee Guest Reviewer), Columbia University, New York City

Catherine Dulac, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee, Former Sponsor), Harvard University, Cambridge

Maria Jasin, PhD (Current Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award Committee, Former Fellowship Award Committee, Former Sponsor), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City

Rodney J. Rothstein, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee), Columbia University Medical Center, New York City

Jeremy W. Thorner, PhD (Former Fellowship Award Committee, Former Sponsor), University of California, Berkeley


April 24, 2015

Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD (Damon Runyon Board Member, Damon Runyon Fellow ‘77-‘79) of The Rockefeller University, New York, has received the E.B. Wilson Medal, the highest scientific honor bestowed by the American Society for Cell Biology. She is recognized for her pioneering research on mammalian skin and adult stem cells.


April 20, 2015

Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Lilly Clinical Investigator ‘03-‘08) and colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, reported the results of a Phase I study testing a combination therapy (Yervoy plus Opdivo/nivolumab) vs. Yervoy alone in patients with metastatic melanoma (with wild type BRAF gene). In 72 patients, the rate of confirmed response was 61% for the combination therapy (22% with complete response) vs. 11% for Yervoy alone (0% complete response). These results were published in the journal The New England Journal of Medicine.


March 30, 2015

Carey K. Anders, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '12-'15), and C. Ryan Miller, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '09-'12) of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chapel Hill, and colleagues, reported that they identified a drug treatment strategy that can improve survival for a particularly aggressive breast cancer sub-type (triple negative breast cancer) after it has spread to the brain. They demonstrated, in a mouse model of this cancer, that a combination of the drugs carboplatin and a PARP inhibitor improved survival. The researchers hope that these findings will lead to a clinical trial that would allow researchers to test this treatment strategy in patients. These results were published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.


March 26, 2015

Maximilian W. Popp, PhD (HHMI-Damon Runyon Fellow '12-'15) and colleagues at the University of Rochester, Rochester, discovered that stopping a cellular quality-control mechanism can make chemotherapy more effective. This mechanism is called NMD (nonsense-mediated mRNA decay). The researchers found that exposing breast cancer cells to a molecule that inhibits NMD prior to treatment with doxorubicin, a drug used to treat leukemia, breast, bone, lung and other cancers, speeds cancer cell death. The results provide insights that could lead to new treatment strategies for cancer patients in the future. These findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.


March 25, 2015

Eirini Papapetrou, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Edward P. Evans Foundation Innovator '13-'16) of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, reported the results of a technique called cellular reprogramming that takes mature blood cells from patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and reprograms them back into stem cells to study the genetic origins of MDS. MDS is a rare blood cancer that can progress into acute leukemia; its causes are not well understood. Her team was able to define a region on chromosome 7 that is critical to MDS and identify candidate genes in the region that may underlie the disease. The findings were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


March 23, 2015

Li Li, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator '01-'06), of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, and colleagues, demonstrated that a combination of the diabetes drug metformin and vitamin D3 work together to prevent colorectal cancer in two animal models. They plan to advance these findings to develop clinical trials in humans. These results were reported in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.


March 19, 2015

William C. Hahn, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon Fellow '98-'99) of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, will be honored with the 39th annual AACR-Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award. He is being recognized for his seminal contributions to the understanding of the mechanisms underlying cancer initiation, maintenance, and progression. His work has defined new paradigms and has provided a foundation for novel therapeutic approaches that are being tested in the clinic. He will receive the award at the AACR Annual Meeting 2015 in April.


March 5, 2015

Sidi Chen, PhD (Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Scientist ‘15, Damon Runyon Fellow '12-'15) and Feng Zhang, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator '12-'14), of the Broad Institute and MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Cambridge, used CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to systematically target every gene in the genome in an animal model. The study revealed genes involved in tumor evolution and metastasis, including some well-known tumor suppressor genes as well as novel genes not previously linked to cancer. The work was published in the journal Cell.


February 2, 2015

Agnel Sfeir, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘13-‘15) and colleagues at New York University School of Medicine, New York, reported that inhibiting the action of a particular enzyme called polymerase theta, or PolQ, dramatically slows the growth of tumor cells containing BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. This could have an impact on breast and ovarian cancers. The findings were published in the journal Nature.


January 27, 2015

Terry Magnuson, PhD (Fellowship Award Committee Member), William Y. Kim, MD (Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator ‘09-‘14), and colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, created the first mouse model of ovarian clear cell carcinoma using data from The Cancer Genome Atlas. Specific types of mutation of the genes ARID1A and PIK2CA gave rise to ovarian cancer 100 percent of the time. These mutations led to the overproduction of Interleukin-6 (IL-6), a type of protein called a cytokine that is crucial for cell signaling that triggers inflammation. They demonstrated that a known drug can suppress tumor growth. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.


January 21, 2015

Moritz F. Kircher, MD, PhD (Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator ‘14-‘16) and colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, reported development of a new type of nanoparticle called “nanostars,” which accumulate in tumor cells and scatter light, making the tumors easily visible with a special camera. The nanoparticles cannot enter noncancerous cells in the body, so only the cancer cells light up. The scientists hope that this may one day enable improved identification of tumor margins during surgery, microscopic metastases, and even precancerous cells with high precision. The findings were reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


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