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Duke stem cell biologist wins 3 major awards in 1 month

DURHAM, N.C. Chay Kuo, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology at Duke University Medical Center, has won three prestigious awards in one fell swoop. His cutting-edge, noteworthy progress in stem cell research is the reason that three different organizations called him with good news this month.

"Chay is a remarkable physician-scientist whose work reveals secrets of neural stem cells, offering hope for children born with brain injuries," said Duke School of Medicine Dean Nancy C. Andrews.

"The Cell Biology Department is very proud of Chay and his achievements," said Brigid Hogan, Ph.D., chair of the Duke Department of Cell Biology. "He is a wonderful example of how scientists doing basic research at Duke are working hard to build bridges to clinicians dealing with the most heartbreaking medical problems. The innovative ideas of our young faculty like Chay, in combination with the most advanced technologies for real-time imaging and chemical screening, are pushing the envelope of discovery research at Duke."

"My job as a scientist is to tackle difficult questions and see how they will advance the field of neurological disease research in the coming years, and these awards will give me the resources to explore promising avenues and advance findings more quickly," said Dr. Kuo. "The awards are unexpected developments for my new laboratory and the dedicated young people who have joined me. None of this would have been possible without the generous support of the Jean and George Brumley, Jr., Neonatal and Perinatal Research Institute, the Tisch Cancer Investigators Program, and the Duke Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine program.

He heard from the National Institutes of Health that he won the Director's New Innovator Award of $1.5 million over five years. This award is for work on neural stem cells and their role in brain injury and repair. "The goal of this award is to encourage scientists to do exactly what they want to do," Kuo said. "One thing I have always wanted to do is science that could lead to therapeutic solutions for patients suffering from brain injuries after trauma and stroke."

The NIH award goes to "highly creative researchers (who) are tackling important scientific challenges with bold ideas and inventive technologies that promise to break through barriers and radically shift our understanding," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., who will announce the awards on Sept. 22.

Kuo also won a Distinguished Scientist Award from the Sontag Foundation for his research into brain tumor development. This prestigious award is $600,000 over a four-year period, beginning October 1, 2008. "Stem cells hold tremendous therapeutic promise, but stem cells behaving badly can have grave consequences," said Kuo. Tumors in the brain are often deadly, but where these tumor cells come from is poorly understood. Kuo and colleagues are planning experiments to investigate how mutations in neural stem cells can give rise to brain tumors, and how destroying these cancer-causing stem cells may result in successful therapy. Only two Sontag Distinguished Scientist Awards were given this year.

"These awards reflect the vibrant and exciting atmosphere at Duke as a place to conduct the best stem cell research, both to realize the potential for therapy and as a target for cancer treatments," Kuo said.

Third, Kuo received a Packard Fellow in Science and Engineering Award from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Aimed at supporting unusually creative researchers early in their careers, the fellowship provides $875,000 over five years. With these funds, the Kuo laboratory and collaborators will engineer a chemical screening platform that will give scientists powerful new tools to understand the architectural blueprints of how stem cell environments are constructed, "which will give us new ways to look at biological problems," Kuo said. "This award will provide a basis for and tie together our future work."


Contact: Mary Jane Gore
Duke University Medical Center

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