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Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Scientists Receive 2019 Innovation Award


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The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation named nine scientists with novel approaches to fighting cancer the 2019 recipients of the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award. Five early career scientists will receive initial grants of $400,000 over 2 years. Another 4 awardees who demonstrated significant progress during the first 2 years of the award will receive continued “Stage 2” support.

2019 Innovation Award Recipients

  • Xiaochun Li, PhD, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Li is focusing on the Hedgehog signaling pathway, which can be activated abnormally in adult tissues and has been implicated in basal cell carcinoma and medulloblastoma. His lab will apply structural and cell biologic approaches to study two major components of the Hedgehog signaling pathway: Patched-I and Smoothened.
  • Joseph D. Mancias, MD, PhD, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Mancias is exploring the synergistic interactions between radiation therapy and targeted immunotherapy in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Identifying the pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma radiation-induced antigens will provide the basis for designing effective immunotherapies.
  • Jan P. Schuemann, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Schuemann’s research is exploring whether extreme dose-rate proton therapy can be used to spare healthy tissues while still treating solid tumors, with a focus on irradiation of the brain. His findings may demonstrate how extreme dose-rate proton therapy can greatly improve outcomes with radiation therapy.
  • Jason M. Sheltzer, PhD, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Dr. Sheltzer is developing chromosome engineering technology to eliminate extra copies of chromosome 1q from breast cancer cell lines and determining whether this process prevents cells from forming tumors. Additionally, his group will test whether aneuploidy causes ovarian cancer cells to be sensitive to chemotherapy, with the goal of identifying a drug that specifically kills only cells with extra copies of chromosome 1q.
  • Alexandra-Chloé Villani, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Villani is analyzing patient samples using genomic technologies to identify therapeutic solutions to prevent or clinically manage immune-related adverse events without reducing the life-saving potential of immunotherapy.
  • Benjamin L. Martin, PhD, and David S. Matus, PhD, Stony Brook University. Drs. Martin and Matus’ collaborative project is founded upon the observation that a cell cannot simultaneously invade and divide. Using two model systems, they have gained a better understanding of how cell-cycle arrest increases the invasive capacity of individual cells during metastasis.
  • Rushika M. Perera, PhD, University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Perera has characterized cancer-specific lysosomal proteins and showed that these proteins confer upon pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cells two key properties: the ability to rapidly repair cell membranes in the face of sustained mechanical and chemical insults and to alter cell membrane composition to evade recognition by the host immune system. Collectively, these results suggest largely unexplored roles for the lysosome and highlight novel vulnerabilities.
  • • Marcela V. Maus, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Maus is redesigning chimeric antigen receptor T cells to target cells displaying antigens made from cancer-causing oncogenes to address the specific hurdles of antigen heterogeneity and penetrating the blood-brain barrier. She is testing these “living drugs” in vitro and in mouse models with the goal of ultimately advancing these studies to human clinical trials. 

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