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Three Pioneering Ideas in Cancer Research Granted Prestigious Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Awards
Date:1/14/2010

New technologies offer opportunities to solve mysteries of cancer

NEW YORK, Jan. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation announced that three novel approaches to fighting cancer have won 2010 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Awards.  The prize of $450,000 is awarded each year to three projects by early-career cancer researchers that have the potential to have a major impact on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The 2010 Damon Runyon–Rachleff Innovators are:

Heather R. Christofk, Ph.D.

University of California, Los Angeles, California

Unraveling an old mystery using new technology

Scientists have known since the 1920s that one distinguishing characteristic of cancer cells is their altered glucose metabolism: compared to normal cells, cancer cells have a "sweet tooth" and use much more glucose from the environment.  This discovery has yet to be exploited for therapeutic benefit.

Dr. Christofk's goal is to identify the proteins within cancer cells that are responsible for their altered glucose metabolism.  She aims to grow tumors in mice, then turn off their metabolic "switches," monitoring the result using advanced imaging technologies.   Her research will determine whether targeting tumor metabolism is a feasible approach for cancer therapy and may identify new cancer drug targets.

Dr. Christofk commented, "The field of cancer metabolism has re-emerged with a great deal of promise in the last few years, yet there are several fundamental questions still to be answered.  This award will dramatically accelerate my research and allow me to answer some of these critical questions on a much shorter timetable.  Thank you to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and the Rachleffs for their generous support - this award is one of the greatest honors a young scientist could hope for!"

Joshua C. Munger, Ph.D.

University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

Applying a 'systems approach' to understand cancer cell metabolism

Beyond the altered glucose metabolism being studied by Dr. Christofk, cancer induces many other distinctive metabolic activities that are important for cancer cell replication.  

Whereas previous studies often focused on individual metabolic activities, Dr. Munger is taking an expanded "global" approach by examining the rates of many metabolic processes simultaneously.  The goal of his research is to identify novel cancer-specific metabolic activities and define how they are genetically triggered.  Ultimately, he plans to explore new avenues to block these activities, thereby destroying cancerous cells.

Dr. Munger said, "Most funding agencies will not fund researchers whose proposals they deem 'too ambitious,' instead preferring 'safer' projects.   The Damon Runyon Foundation is unique in supporting the ambitious ideas of young researchers, and in this respect, they fund research that otherwise would likely not occur.  I am extremely grateful for the Foundation's support of my laboratory's research."

Raffaella Sordella, Ph.D.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York

[Island Outreach Foundation Innovator of the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award]

Defining new paradigms to understand drug resistance

New targeted therapies have been successful in treating certain cancers.  For example, for lung cancer, Iressa and Tarceva produce encouraging responses in Non Small Cell Lung Carcinomas (NSCLC) with specific gene mutations.  However, clinical data shows that the tumors inevitably develop drug resistance, which results in relapse within a few years.  Currently it is not well understood how cancers develop resistance to drugs over time.  

Dr. Sordella aims to characterize drug-resistant lung cancer cells at the molecular and genetic levels, defining the requirements for their survival and ability to spread.  The ultimate goal of this research is to develop methods to therapeutically target these tumor cells in lung cancer as well as in other cancer types.    

Dr. Sordella said, "While risky, this project has the potential to provide life-changing benefits for a large number of cancer patients. I am very grateful to the Damon Runyon and Island Outreach Foundations for this grant, which will allow us to fast-track this research.  Given the prestige associated with this Damon Runyon Award, I also hope that it will help us to gain additional funding from other sources."

Funding Daring Research

The Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award funds cancer research by exceptionally creative thinkers with "high-risk/high-reward" ideas who lack sufficient preliminary data to obtain traditional funding.  The awardees are selected through a highly competitive and rigorous process by a scientific committee comprised of leading cancer researchers who are innovators themselves.  At the final stage of selection, candidates are screened by an in-person interview with committee members.  Only those scientists with a strong vision and passion for curing cancer are selected to receive the prestigious award. 

This program is possible through the generous support of Andy and Debbie Rachleff and the Island Outreach Foundation.

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

The mission of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation is to identify the most brilliant and promising early-career scientists and provide them with funding to pursue innovative research that will eliminate cancer as a deadly disease.  The Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists.  Eleven scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, and others are heads of cancer centers and leaders of renowned research programs. Since its founding in 1946, the Foundation has invested over $220 million and funded more than 3,200 scientists.  This year, it will invest approximately $9 million in the most outstanding young investigators in the nation.

100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets Service and endowment.

For more information visit www.damonrunyon.org

SOURCE Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

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SOURCE Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation
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