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Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation awards prestigious fellowships to 17 top young scientists

New York, NY-- The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on supporting exceptional early career researchers and innovative cancer research, named 17 new Damon Runyon Fellows at its May 2009 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 is specifically intended to encourage the nation's most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding ($140,000 each) to work on innovative projects.

Of the 17 new Fellows, six will be named HHMI Fellows in recognition of support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which will fund $1M in Damon Runyon Fellowships each year.

May 2009 Damon Runyon Fellows:

Orkun Akin, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor S. Lawrence Zipursky, PhD, at the University of California, Los Angeles, California, is studying cell motility in the context of the developing nervous system. He aims to understand how external cues are coupled to changes in the actin cytoskeleton. As cell motility is essential for normal development as well as for cancer metastasis, new insights into the basic biology of motility carry the promise of new therapies and approaches to cancer treatment.

Yimon Aye, PhD, with her sponsor JoAnne Stubbe, PhD, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is studying the mechanism and regulation of ribonucleotide reductases (RNRs), enzymes that play an essential role in making deoxynucleotides (the "building blocks" of DNA). RNRs are overexpressed in cancer cells, making them an ideal target for cancer drugs. Her work will focus on understanding the mechanism of a new drug called Triapine, which may prevent the replication of tumor cells and is currently being tested in Phase II and III clinical trials.

Sean C. Bendall, PhD, with his sponsor Garry P. Nolan, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is using breakthrough single-cell analysis techniques to investigate how normal regulatory cell signaling networks are rewired, allowing cancer to grow unchecked. By understanding these events, he aims to contribute to the development of more effective diagnostics and treatments to improve clinical outcomes.

Robert K. Bradley, PhD, with his sponsor Christopher B. Burge, PhD, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is studying the proteins that regulate splicing, a process by which a single gene may be expressed as multiple, distinct protein forms. Gaining a better understanding of this process is important, as disruption of normal splicing can give rise to cancer.

Matthew F. Calabrese, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Brenda A. Schulman, PhD, at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, is studying how cell division is regulated, in part, by the attachment of a protein called ubiquitin to other proteins throughout the cell. Understanding how ubiqutin is attached to its targets and how this attachment is recognized by cellular machinery is critical to understanding normal cell division as well as unregulated cell division associated with cancer.

Jianfu Chen, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Lee A. Niswander, PhD, at the University of Colorado Denver, Colorado, is studying molecular mechanisms of gene-folic acid (FA) interactions. The goals of his research are to understand how FA interacts with our genome and to determine whether it has a role in cancer prevention.

Won-Suk Chung, PhD, with his sponsor Ben A. Barres, MD, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is investigating the development and function of brain cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes have been shown only recently to play critical roles in neuronal development and diseases, such as brain tumors (astrocytomas). Understanding how astrocytes are generated and maintained in the brain will help to develop better strategies for treating astrocytomas.

Nadya Dimitrova, PhD, with her sponsor Tyler Jacks, PhD, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is studying the role of a novel class of RNA molecules, lincRNAs, in tumor suppression. By dissecting the mechanism by which lincRNAs influence tumor suppressor pathways, she hopes to identify new markers for cancer diagnosis as well as novel approaches for effective cancer treatment.

Chuan-Hsiang Huang, MD, PhD [Harold L. Plotnick Fellow] with his sponsor Peter N. Devreotes, PhD, at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, is studying chemotaxis, a process by which cells migrate in response to naturally-occurring chemical cues in the human body. This process is essential for normal cellular movements as well as for the spread of cancer cells (metastasis). Better understanding of chemotaxis will facilitate the development of strategies to block cancer metastasis.

Daniel H. Kim, PhD, with his sponsor Jeannie T. Lee, MD, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying how noncoding RNAs (unique RNAs that do not make proteins) control gene expression during a developmental process in females called X-inactivation, which turns off all genes on an entire chromosome. His work may provide insights into novel regulatory roles for noncoding RNAs in silencing tumor suppressor genes, while potentially revealing new therapeutic targets for the treatment of many types of cancer.

Liana F. Lareau, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with her sponsor Patrick O. Brown, MD, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is investigating how the cell regulates translation, the process that turns the information in our genes into proteins. Misregulation of protein production is a hallmark of many forms of cancer.

Josselin Milloz, PhD, with his sponsor Sharad Ramanathan, PhD, at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, aims to understand how autophagy, the process of cellular "self-cannibalism," is involved in a large number of cancers. Learning how autophagy is coordinated with other cellular processes will better elucidate its multiple roles in cancer.

Taiowa A. Montgomery, PhD, with his sponsor Gary Ruvkun, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying mechanisms of gene silencing by a class of small regulatory molecules called microRNAs. In addition to having essential roles in development, microRNAs can act as oncogenes or as tumor suppressors. MicroRNAs have tremendous potential to be used therapeutically to prevent and treat cancer.

Benjamin R. Myers, PhD, with his sponsor Philip A. Beachy, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, California, is studying the function of the Hedgehog signaling pathway, in particular, how inappropriate activation of this pathway can lead to the initiation and growth of tumors. Insights into Hedgehog signaling may allow for the development of more potent and specific forms of cancer therapy.

Jared T. Nordman, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Terry L. Orr-Weaver, PhD, at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is working to identify genes that are necessary to ensure accurate and efficient duplication of the genome. Identifying genes involved in the regulation of DNA replication is critical for understanding how a normal cell can become a tumor cell.

Sharsti L. Sandall, PhD, with her sponsor D. Leanne Jones, PhD, at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California, is investigating the mechanisms governing stem cell fate within the native environment or "niche." These studies may reveal paradigms of how a normal stem cell niche can be converted to an environment that supports cancer self-renewal; this could ultimately provide strategies to target the environment as a novel anticancer therapy.

Ilan Wapinski, PhD [HHMI Fellow] with his sponsor Roy Kishony, PhD, at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying how changes in gene regulation impact cellular growth rates. Understanding these processes will help to understand how cancer cells can outgrow healthy ones in the human body.


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

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