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AACR and Landon Foundation support the next generation of researchers with INNOVATOR Awards

ORLANDO, Fla. The American Association for Cancer Research and the Kirk A. and Dorothy P. Landon Foundation will present three INNOVATOR Awards at the AACR 102nd Annual Meeting 2011, held April 2-6.

The Fourth Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research will be presented to Megan J. Huchko, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences from the University of California, San Francisco. The Fourth Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration in Cancer Research will be presented to Timothy R. Rebbeck, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and associate director for population science in the Abramson Cancer Center. The Second Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Research in Personalized Cancer Medicine will be presented to Jason T. Huse, M.D., Ph.D., assistant attending in the department of pathology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

The Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Awards, established in 2008, are designed to foster innovation and collaboration in cancer research and support independent investigators early in their careers. The awards provide the recipients with the recognition they need to further their careers and possibly leverage additional funding. AACR and the Landon Foundation shifted from presenting two annual scientific achievement awards to presenting research grant funding in 2009. This was in an effort to refocus attention on younger researchers and recognize the critical need to identify and support the next generation of top cancer researchers as a way of facilitating breakthroughs in treatment and prevention.

As Landon Foundation Board member Nance Guilmartin explained, "When the esteemed Dr. Bob Weinberg accepted his award a few years ago, he called upon funders to do more to support the work of younger cancer researchers lest we risk losing a generation of scientists amidst major funding cutbacks. At the same time we felt the need to pay more attention to prevention. Encouraged by AACR and emeritus scientists we decided it was time to shine the spotlight on bold, emerging mid-career cancer researchers at vital junctures in their work and help springboard their innovation and reward their willingness to collaborate."

The Landon Foundation-AACR partnership continues with these INNOVATOR Awards which honor pioneers in cancer research. Prior to 2011, three prevention, three international collaboration, and one personalized medicine awards were given. Combined with the previous scientific achievement awards, the total contribution of the Landon Foundation-AACR partnership is now close to $4 million.

The INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research supports a junior faculty researcher conducting research in any discipline of cancer prevention. The Award for International Collaboration in Cancer Research supports an established international cancer research collaboration involving institutes in multiple countries by supplementing existing funding and providing the means to facilitate travel, training in new techniques, and the dissemination of the scientific knowledge gained from the collaboration. The Award for Research in Personalized Cancer Medicine, now in its second year, provides support for a physician-scientist who conducts meritorious studies that hold promise for near-patient benefit to accelerate progress in the area of personalized cancer medicine. Awardees each receive a two-year grant for $100,000 over the grant term.

2011 Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research

Huchko's project is Cervical cancer screening with a novel biomarker in HIV-infected women. Cervical cancer disproportionately impacts women in developing countries, and the HIV epidemic has increased the biologic and health care factors associated with cervical cancer. This has been seen most dramatically in sub-Saharan African countries such as Kenya, where cervical cancer is the most common cancer killer among women. Novel testing and treatment strategies that can be carried out in low-resource settings are urgently needed, especially among the growing population of women with HIV.

Testing for protein biomarkers expressed in the presence of cervical dysplasia has shown the potential to increase accuracy of detection of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). One such protein, p16INK4a, has been identified as a biomarker with high sensitivity and specificity for CIN. Huchko's research team is in the final phase of a pilot study to test the feasibility of a 16INK4a biochemical assay collected from a cervical swab among women with HIV in western Kenya.

If shown to have a high specificity and sensitivity for CIN, a biochemical assay could be developed as of a point-of-care screening test, which would be ideal for a low-resource setting. This is the first study examining the performance of p16INK4a in women with HIV and the first to look at the performance of the biochemical assay in a low-resource setting.

Huchko will perform a validation trial to assess the capacity of a clinical laboratory in an outpatient clinic in western Kenya to independently analyze the p16INK4a specimens. In addition, she will use the cut-off values determined in the pilot study to evaluate the sensitivity and specificity of the p16INK4a biochemical assay to screen for CIN among women with HIV. This research could exponentially increase options for cervical cancer screening in low-resource settings and add another choice for screening women in all parts of the world.

2011 Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration in Cancer Research

Rebbeck's project, African Centers of Excellence in prostate cancer research, will further develop the multicenter collaborative structure for prostate cancer research in Africa. The African Centers of Excellence (ACEs) brings together investigators interested in studies of prostate cancer in Africa and develops multicenter collaborative research in order to understand prostate cancer incidence, mortality, and prevention in men of African descent.

Rebbeck's team will undertake descriptive and analytical epidemiology studies to understand the magnitude of the prostate cancer problem and identify relevant risk factors for prostate cancer etiology and outcomes. The team will undertake studies of inherited genotypes for prostate cancer etiology and outcomes. Additionally, they will study somatic biomarkers in prostate tumors, including ETS fusion proteins, telomere length, infection, and miRNA, genomic expression studies, and other relevant biomarkers. By expanding the research infrastructure and capabilities of the ACEs group, Rebbeck's team will address an important and increasing cancer problem in Africa, and will continue research development in an underserved continent. The knowledge gained from studies of aggressive disease in Africa may in turn aid in the understanding of aggressive prostate cancer diagnosed anywhere in the world.

This grant is for an ongoing international cancer research collaboration. Rebbeck's collaborators are:

  • Pedro Fernandez, Ph.D., University of Stellenbosch and Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Serigne M. Gueye, M.D., Hpital Gnral de Grand Yoff and Universit Cheikh Anta DIOP, Dakar, Senegal
  • Sunny Doodu Mante, M.D., 37 Military Hospital, Accra, Ghana
  • Michael N. Okobia, Ph.D., University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria and University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
  • Stephen G. Watya, M.Med., Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

2011 Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Research in Personalized Cancer Medicine

Huse's project is Personalizing PI3K/AKT pathway inhibitor therapy in malignant glioma. The PI3K/AKT signaling network has been repeatedly implicated in the pathogenesis of malignant glioma and represents a promising therapeutic target. However, the extent to which PI3K/AKT pathway activity fluctuates across the molecularly heterogeneous landscape of malignant glioma has not been established. Moreover, the relevance of such variability to pharmaceutical inhibition and treatment responsiveness is unclear.

Huse will address these questions using an innovative approach centered on the direct analysis of human glioma tissue. Using a panel of validated immunohistochemical, genomic, and transcriptional methods, he will perform extensive molecular profiling on more than 200 samples from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Department of Pathology.

In doing so, he will establish connections between PI3K/AKT pathway activity, glioma-relevant genomic anomalies and recently established molecular subclasses. He will also directly translate findings to patient care by performing correlative molecular analysis for clinical trials with PI3K/AKT pathway inhibitors. Huse's goals are grounded in the development and application of the molecular pathology infrastructure necessary for personalized care advancement in neuro-oncology.


Contact: Michele Sharp
American Association for Cancer Research

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