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Damon Runyon Awards $4M for Early Career Cancer Investigators, Continuation Grants

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Damon Runyon Cancer Research foundation said today it has awarded $4 million to fund 10 researchers engaged in molecular and cellular research aimed at treating various types of cancer.

The new grants include seven new Damon Runyon Clinical Investigators awards, which provide $450,000 to early-career physician-scientists working under mentors at major research centers, and three Continuation Grants of $300,000 to researchers who are conducting promising research or clinical trials but are nearing the end of their initial awards.

Zsofia Stadler, a clinical geneticist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), will use one of the grants to determine the genetic basis of sporadic cancers in young adults. She aims to find out if de novo chromosomal changes in the genome are associated with testicular germline cancer. She will use high-resolution sequencing technology to compare the whole genomes of patients to those of their parents with the goal of identifying rare genetic variants associated with cancer susceptibility and risk.

Luc Morris, also at MSKCC, is studying a gene called FAT1. He has found that FAT1 prevents tumor development in its normal state, but it is often altered in head and neck cancer cases. He plans to determine the effects of FAT1 alterations on tumor cell growth and on patients' clinical prognoses, which could make it possible to develop new ways to target the pathways that promote development of head and neck cancer and other squamous cell cancers.

Alejandro Gutierrez, at Boston Children's Hospital, received an award to define the molecular basis of chemotherapy resistance, with the aim of finding out why some patients' tumors respond to the treatment and others do not. He plans to use his findings to develop a therapeutic strategy that could restore chemosensitivity and improve patients' clinical outcomes.

Arash Alizadeh, of the Stanford University School of Medicine, will use his discovery that the expression of the oncogene BCL6 can reprogram normal cells into aggressive, malignant cells in a new therapeutic strategy for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. He intends to define the specific genetic alterations that cause the cell reprogramming and use that knowledge in a strategy to characterize and isolate premalignant cells before they turn into cancer cells. The hope is that the research will lead to a better understanding of cancer biology, as well as better lymphoma treatments.

The other six awards will support a broad range of molecular and cellular research projects.