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Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation awards prestigious fellowships to 12 top young scientists

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, named 12 new Damon Runyon Fellows at its fall Fellowship Award Committee review. The recipients of this prestigious, three-year award are outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators across the country. The Fellowship encourages the nation's most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding ($156,000 each) to work on innovative projects.

November 2010 Damon Runyon Fellows:

Maria Genander, PhD [Dale F. and Betty Ann Frey Fellow] with her sponsor Elaine V. Fuchs, PhD, at The Rockefeller University, New York, New York, is studying how hair follicle stem cell quiescence, or dormancy, is maintained. She aims to identify genes that are turned on or off in response to bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs). This will provide insights into how BMP receptor mutations lead to development of skin cancer.

Charles K. Kaufman, MD, PhD, with his sponsor Leonard I. Zon, MD, at Children's Hospital Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, aims to disrupt the ability of specific cancer-causing genes (oncogenes) to drive cancer formation and progression by altering the cell's identity. He will focus on melanocytes, pigment-producing cells that when disrupted give rise to melanoma. These studies may have implications for prevention and treatment of melanoma.

Yumi Kim, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with her sponsor Abby F. Dernburg, PhD, at the University of California, Berkeley, California, is investigating how sexually reproducing organisms faithfully transmit their genetic information from parent to progeny through a specialized cell division called meiosis. Understanding the mechanisms that ensure accurate chromosome segregation during a cell division is imperative to designing effective cancer therapeutics.

Ying Lu, PhD, with his sponsor Marc W. Kirschner, PhD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, is designing a novel technique to study cellular reactions called ubiquitination and deubiquitination, which are essential for normal biological processes and are often mutated in cancer. He will examine single molecules in cell extracts, with the goal of gaining insights into the role of these reactions in cancer development and growth.

Raymond E. Moellering, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Benjamin F. Cravatt, PhD, at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, is investigating whether cancer cells use small molecule signaling, known as quorum-sensing, to communicate and thus control tumor initiation, growth and metastasis. Such mechanisms are well characterized in other complex cellular populations, such as bacteria, but none have been discovered yet in human cancer. Understanding this form of cancer cell communication will provide insights into many aspects of tumor progression and may identify new opportunities for therapeutic intervention.

Erin A. Osborne, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with her sponsor Jason D. Lieb, PhD, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is examining asymmetric cell division, a process that when disrupted has been linked to cancer occurrence and progression. By combining deep sequencing technology with single-cell dissection, she hopes to fully characterize unequal RNA transcript partitioning that occurs during asymmetric cell division and to identify cellular components important for cancer occurrence, prevention and therapy.

James P. Scott-Browne, PhD, with his sponsor Anjana Rao, PhD, at La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, California, is studying a recently identified modification of DNA, called 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, to understand how it controls expression of different genes and influences the development of immune cells. As this DNA modification is mutated in certain leukemias, his research may lead to new understanding of these cancers.

Joshua J. Sims, PhD, with his sponsor Peter K. Sorger, PhD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, is using biochemistry and mathematical modeling to study the molecular mechanisms by which cells commit to programmed cell death. Tumor cells acquire changes that allow them to evade this fate, a property that is critical for disease progression and often underlies resistance to treatment.

Rita L. Strack, PhD [Lallage Feazel Wall Fellow] with her sponsor Rachel D. Green, PhD, at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, is studying how cells ensure quality control during protein synthesis. The quality control process, called nonsense-mediated decay, is essential for cells to function properly; synthesizing defective proteins can lead to many types of cancer. This process may be a novel target for cancer diagnosis or therapeutics.

Nathan D. Thomsen, PhD [Suzanne and Bob Wright Fellow] with his sponsor James A. Wells, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is studying the mechanism by which a newly discovered class of small molecules can activate enzymes known as caspases and induce programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells. Disruption of apoptosis is a defining feature of many cancers. Understanding the mechanism of small molecule-induced caspase activation may thus directly contribute to the rational design of improved cancer therapies.

Qiong Yang, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with her sponsor James E. Ferrell, MD, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is developing theoretical models and quantitative experiments to capture the fundamental principles that govern the robust oscillations in early embryonic cell cycles. These principles may reveal a better understanding of cancer development and new possibilities for therapeutic intervention.

Jihye Yun, PhD, with her sponsor James A. Thomson, VMD, PhD, at Morgridge Institute for Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, is studying the transcription factors that can generate transplantable blood-forming stem cells from embryonic stem cells. Her research will aid the development of practical protocols for the treatment of blood cell cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma.


Contact: Yung S. Lie, Ph.D.
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

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