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$5 million awarded in Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition

NEW YORK (Feb. 1, 2013) -- Cancer research teams from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College, the New York City based members of the Starr Cancer Consortium (SCC), are winners of $5 million in grant awards from The Starr Foundation's Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition to fund five novel cancer research projects.

The Starr Cancer Consortium (SCC), established in 2006 through a generous gift from The Starr Foundation, advances research in new ways that will have an impact on the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer. The SCC is a collaborative framework among five institutions -- The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell.

"We congratulate the winners of The Starr Foundation's Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition," says Florence A. Davis, president of The Starr Foundation. "This Consortium has launched a number of innovative, collaborative cancer research projects that are already linking discoveries in the laboratory to the clinic. Better patient outcomes are our ultimate goal and we see progress every year."

"We believe these five novel, collaborative research projects have the potential to deepen our understanding of cancers and transform detection and treatment," says Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman of The Starr Foundation's Board of Directors. "Our dedicated support of these novel research teams fosters collaboration to gain a deeper understanding of the molecular underpinnings of each diverse cancer and accelerate research to prevent or cure the disease."

"Starr Foundation funding has enabled us to forge important alliances while undertaking innovative, highly promising research that would not otherwise have been possible," says Memorial Sloan-Kettering President Craig B. Thompson. "This initiative has proven that collaboration leads to more-rapid advancement of cancer research from the laboratory to clinical applications."

"We are extremely grateful to The Starr Foundation for its generous and continued support of collaborative biomedical research in New York City," says Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University. "By harnessing the talent of the city's leading scientific lights across multiple institutions, The Starr Cancer Consortium is poised to make progress in our understanding of the origins of cancer and, ultimately, its treatment."

"Weill Cornell sincerely thanks The Starr Foundation for its continuous support to advance team science in New York City," says Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "Cancer research shouldn't have any barriers or institutional walls to finding discoveries and cures for our cancer patients."

This year, the Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition received 27 grant applications, selecting only five collaborative cancer research projects as winners. Each of the five exceptional research projects was awarded a two-year grant totaling $1 million.

The Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition Grant awardees include:

Dr. C. David Allis, of The Rockefeller University, is the principal investigator for "Elucidating Mechanisms of Histone H3.3 Mutants-Mediated Oncogenesis in Pediatric Brain Cancers." This research project will investigate how histone H3.3 mutations affect the epigenetic landscape to mediate the development of pediatric gliomas. The goal of the study is to generate novel insight about pediatric gliomagenesis, streamline clinical translation of pediatric glioma treatment and identify novel therapeutic strategies. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Cameron Brennan, Dr. Yu Chen, Dr. Ping Chi and Dr. Viviane Tabar from Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Dr. Jeffrey Greenfield from Weill Cornell.

Dr. Olivier Elemento, of Weill Cornell, is the principal investigator for "Comprehensive Elucidation of the Mechanisms of Action of Anticancer Molecules." This research project will identify the mechanisms of action of anticancer molecules using a novel chemical genomic approach based on next-generation sequencing developed by the research team. The goal of the study is to improve the efficacy of anticancer molecules and advance the development of strategies to overcome drug resistance in patients. The team will examine cancer drugs whose mechanisms of action are partially characterized and will elucidate the resistance signature of each cancer drug; that is, the many ways by which cancer cells can develop resistance to the drug. These signatures will help identify strategies to improve drug efficacy and will predict which drugs can be combined to maximize efficacy and slow down the acquisition of resistance. The co-principal investigator for this study is Dr. Tarun Kapoor of Rockefeller University.

Dr. Todd Evans, of Weill Cornell, is the principal investigator for "Discovery of AID-dependent Epigenetic Mechanisms in Hematological Malignancies." Study investigations will focus on activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID), a gene that regulates cytosine methylation patterns that may control the epigenetic landscape of hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, and can impact cancer by regulating DNA methylation patterns. The goal of the study is to discover and target epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to hematological malignancies such as lymphoma and leukemia and identify novel therapeutic targets. The research team's preliminary data suggest AID functions as a tumor promoter in lymphoma, and as a tumor suppressor in myeloid leukemia. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Jayanta Chaudhuri and Dr. Ross Levine from Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Dr. Olivier Elemento, Dr. Ari Melnick and Dr. Rita Shaknovich from Weill Cornell.

Dr. Minkui Luo, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, is the principal investigator of the research project "Define Oncogenic Mechanisms of Protein Methyltransferases SETDB1 and SUV39H1 in Melanoma." This study is expected to unravel the oncogenic roles of two PKMTs (SETDB1 and SUV39H1) recently identified as key players in BRAF melanoma. These findings will allow researchers to manipulate the downstream epigenetic targets of PKMTs for novel diagnosis and cancer therapy. The goal is to study the molecular targets of PKMTs and define the downstream oncogenic events through in vitro cell-based and in vivo zebrafish melanoma models. This research may have a direct impact on diagnosis, early intervention, treatment or even prevention of melanoma. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Steven Gross, Dr. Yariv Houvras and Dr. Ari Melnick from Weill Cornell.

Dr. Gary Schwartz, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, is the principal investigator for "Therapeutic Targeting of IDH1 and IDH2 Mutations in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Chondrosarcoma." Recurrent somatic mutations in the isocitrate dehydrogenase I (IDH1 and IDH2) genes have been identified in gliomas, acute myeloid leukemias (AML), cholangiocarcinoma and most recently in cartilaginous neoplasms. Mutations in these genes lead to impaired ability of IDH1 and IDH2. The goal of this study is to gain knowledge of the mechanisms of transformation by IDH mutations to facilitate the development of new targeted drugs against IDH1 and IDH2 mutant cancers including chondrosarcoma and AML. Researchers aim to elucidate both cell-type specific epigenetic signatures and reveal deeper insights into the epigenetic, reversible mechanisms underlying disease initiation and progression in IDH mutant malignancies. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Ross Levine of Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Dr. Ari Melnick of Weill Cornell.

The Starr Cancer Consortium is intended largely to support critical mass, collaborative projects with the potential for transforming impact on the understanding and treatment of cancer, through the development and systematic application of molecular technologies, by investigating cancer biology or addressing important clinical problems. It is aimed at encouraging meaningful and ambitious collaborations between and among the participating institutions to develop and apply innovative approaches to transform cancer research and ultimately diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. The goals of the Starr Cancer Consortium are: to drive the development of technology for molecular characterization of cancer by forging productive alliances among scientists at the five participating institutions; to apply these new technologies in joint projects directed at diverse cancers, in the process gaining a deeper understanding of the molecular basis of these cancers and defining new paradigms for cancer research, diagnosis and treatment, and to accelerate research of the basic biological mechanisms underlying the development of cancers.

Contact: Lauren Woods
Weill Cornell Medical College

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