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Damon Runyon's $2.3M Backs High-Risk, High-Reward Cancer Projects

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has awarded $2.3 million to fund several early-career scientists who are developing novel technologies for diagnosing, preventing, and treating cancer, DRCR said yesterday.

The new Damon Runyon Rachleff Innovation Award winners each will receive $450,000 over three years to pursue projects involving a range of molecular, genomic, and other research tools for combating cancer.

The foundation awards these grants to scientists who are "exceptionally creative thinkers" working on high-risk, high-reward methods that currently do not have enough preliminary data supporting them to receive traditional grants.

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai investigator Arvin Dar received a grant to study the Ras-MAPK signaling pathway, which contains two genes that are among the most frequently mutated, altered, or amplified across all cancer types. This pathway contains "highly complex" biochemistry, DRCF said, which has impeded efforts to develop drugs that target it directly. Dar hopes to eventually develop drugs that disable this pathway.

Also at Mount Sinai, Eirini Papapetrou will use novel methods to identify specific genetic alterations that may be involved in myelodysplastic syndrome. Her goal is to understand how tumor suppressor genes promote cancer, and to reprogram human pluripotent stem cells with specific deletions in their chromosomes to characterize the genetic causes of MDS.

Oregon Health & Science University researchers Summer Gibbs and Xiaolin Nan plan to use high-resolution microscopy to look at interactions between proteins involved in the HER2 cell signaling pathway implicated in breast cancer within tumor cells, and at their response to treatments such as Herceptin. They expect that these findings could be used to improve the organization of cancer cell signaling and lead to better treatments.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center scientist Moritz Kircher plans to develop a new nanoparticle-based technology that will enable cancer to be detected and treated based on in vivo tumor expression profiling.

At Harvard University, Emily Balskus received a grant to investigate links between human gut microbes and colorectal cancer. She will use synthetic chemistry, biochemistry, and microbiology tools to characterize and block microbial processes in the gut that may be lead to carcinogenesis.

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