Remembering Ihor R. Lemischka and Günter Blobel, Feinstein Institute Researcher Awarded NIH Grant, and more

Ihor R. Lemischka, PhD

Remembering Ihor R. Lemischka (1953-2017)

Ihor R. Lemischka, PhD, a pioneer in the fields of hematopoiesis and pluripotent cell biology, died on December 17, 2017.

Dr. Lemischka was born in 1953 to Ukrainian immigrants in Trenton, New Jersey. He earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied pseudo-genes and was among the first to determine their origins through RNA-mediated insertions. He then spent 21 years at Princeton University, where he successfully isolated hematopoietic stem cells from a fetal liver and constructed their first molecular profiles. Dr. Lemischka established the Stem Cell and Stromal Cell Databases to make this information public to the stem cell research community.

He was appointed director of the Black Family Stem Cell Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York in 2007, where he remained for the rest of his career. In addition to his achievements in the field of stem cell biology, Dr. Lemischka was known to many as a mentor, fostering the careers of the next generation of researchers.

Dr. Lemischka served on numerous National Institutes of Health (NIH) review panels and was an advisory board member for the New York Stem Cell Foundation, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and University of California Los Angeles Program in Regenerative Medicine.

He is survived by his wife and long-time collaborator, Kateri A. Moore, DVM, also of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Source: Ivanova N, Pereira CF, Lee DF. Ihor R. Lemischka (1953–2017). Cell Stem Cell. 2018;22:16-7.

Günter Blobel, MD, PhD

Remembering Günter Blobel (1936-2018)

Nobel laureate Günter Blobel, MD, PhD, a molecular biologist, died of cancer on February 18, 2018. He spent most of his working life at Rockefeller University in New York.

With funding from the NIH and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, his 30 years of investigation culminated in a discovery for which he won the 1999 Nobel Prize in medicine: Proteins in any living cell have internal signals that direct their transport within the cell and throughout the body.

“[Dr.] Blobel’s discovery has had an immense impact on modern cell biological research,” the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said when announcing the prize. “Furthermore, knowledge about the topogenic signals has increased our understanding of many medically important mechanisms.”

Dr. Blobel won numerous other awards, including the 1987 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize for biochemistry from Columbia University and the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1993.

He is survived by his wife Laura Maioglio; three brothers, Hans, Reiner and Albrecht; and two sisters, Sigrid Mack and Ingeborg Cosack.

Source: The New York Times, February 19, 2018.

Louis M. Weiner, MD

Louis Weiner Named Director of MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute

MedStar Health appointed Louis M. Weiner, MD, as director of its MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute.

Dr. Weiner will remain director of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, the research engine of the institute. As director of the MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, he will lead the development and coordination of clinical care and research programs spanning prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, survivorship, and end-of-life care across the MedStar Health system.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead this effort,” Dr. Weiner said in a statement. “This is an exciting time for the field of cancer therapy, as new treatments are transforming the outlook for patients with this dreaded set of diseases.”

Prior to his appointment at Georgetown Lombardi in 2007, Dr. Weiner held several leadership positions at Temple University Health System’s Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Weiner’s research career has focused on the development of monoclonal antibodies and other immunotherapy treatments. He serves as chair of the NCI’s Board of Scientific Counselors and as a member of its Clinical Trials Advisory Committee. In addition, Weiner recently concluded service as a member of the Advisory Panel of the NIH Center for Scientific Research, which administers NIH research grants.

Source: MedStar Health press release, November 20, 2017.

Raoul Tibes Leads Perlmutter Cancer Center’s Expanded Clinical Leukemia Program

New York University (NYU) Langone Health announced that Raoul Tibes, MD, PhD, associate professor of hematology and medical oncology at NYU School of Medicine, will lead efforts to expand the clinical and investigative leukemia programs at its Perlmutter Cancer Center. Dr. Tibes joined Perlmutter from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where he served as an assistant professor of medicine and clinical consultant.

In his new position, Dr. Tibes will lead the clinical application of genomic discoveries and advances in targeted therapies for blood cancers, and develop investigator-initiated trials of specific biomarkers for leukemia.

Raoul Tibes, MD, PhD

He will also work closely with Ahmad Samer Al-Homsi, MD, the director of bone marrow transplantation at Perlmutter.

Source: New York University Langone Health press release, November 29, 2017.

Feinstein Institute Researcher Awarded NIH Grant to Study Post-Cancer Fertility

Catherine Benedict, PhD, a medical research assistant professor at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, was awarded a two-year, $165,000 grant from the NIH to study how young women who completed cancer treatment make fertility decisions and plan for future families.

Catherine Benedict, PhD

This project will lead to the development of a decision-making and planning tool to help young survivors evaluate their options for having children after cancer.

“Even if young women make some fertility plans before undergoing cancer treatment, many are still unclear of how to navigate their options post treatment when they actually want to plan for a family,” said Dr. Benedict. “They are often surprised with the cost of fertility treatments, unsure if they will go through early menopause, or unaware of their options as a whole.”

Through the project, Dr. Benedict and her team will collect data on women’s awareness of the fertility implications of cancer treatment, their decision-support needs, and their preferences and perceived barriers.

Source: Feinstein Institute press release, December 18, 2017.

Harrington Discovery Institute Announces 2018 Grant Funding

The Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio, announced the recipients of the 2018 Harrington Scholar-Innovator Award, which supports breakthrough research discoveries.

The recipients receive financial support (up to $700,000) and guidance from a team of pharmaceutical industry experts through the Institute’s Innovation Support Center, which oversees drug discovery.

“We hear from our scholars that the tailored guidance [these winners] receive throughout the program and the connection to a for-profit accelerator are vital to success,” said Jonathan Stamler, MD, president of the Harrington Discovery Institute. “We are pleased to see the results, which to date include launching 20 companies, assisting five programs in entering the clinic, and licensing five technologies to big pharma.”

Some of the 2018 Harrington Scholar-Innovator Award recipients include:

  • Suneet Agarwal, MD, PhD, Boston Children’s Hospital, who will study modulators of telomere diseases
  • David Sykes, MD, PhD, Massachusetts General Hospital, who will develop new leukemia treatments
  • Adrian Wiestner, MD, PhD, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute/NIH, whose work enhances the potency of antibody therapeutics for cancer

Source: Harrington Discovery Institute press release, January 18, 2018.

The Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation Provides $20 Million in Funding for the Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, received $20 million from The Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation to support expansion projects for the facility and build a new center for cancer and neurologic care. The building will be named the “Dorothy J. and Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Building” in honor of Harry T. Mangurian and his wife, Dorothy Mangurian. Harry died of leukemia in 2008 and Dorothy was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia and passed away in 2015.

The Mayo Clinic has begun construction on this center, and it is expected to open in late summer.

Source: Mayo Clinic press release, January 23, 2018.

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Awards $3 Million to Young Scientists

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation announced the 2018 recipients of its Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award. The award provides funding for cancer research with “high-risk/high-reward” ideas that lack sufficient preliminary data to obtain traditional funding.

Six early-career scientists (four individuals and one collaborative team) received five initial two-year grants of $300,000 for projects that have the potential to impact the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

The 2018 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovators working in hematologic malignancies include:

Eric S. Fischer, PhD
  • Eric S. Fischer, PhD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, will assess the molecular understanding for the mechanism of action of “degraders” (small molecules that hijack the cellular waste disposal system) and develop degraders to target oncogenic gene products for many cancers.
Arnold S. Han, MD, PhD
  • Arnold S. Han, MD, PhD, of Columbia University in New York, will investigate a strategy to identify T cells and use genetic engineering to enable their full potential. His work investigates T-cell immunity in human colorectal cancer, and he anticipates that the findings will be applicable to other types of cancer.
Wayne O. Miles, PhD
  • Wayne O. Miles, PhD, of The Ohio State University in Columbus, aims to identify factors that block the production of cell death proteins and determine which prevent the death of retinoblastoma 1-lacking cancer cells. He hopes to learn about the mechanisms supporting cancer cell survival, as well as those preventing their death.

Each awardee can secure up to two additional years of funding (defined as Stage 2 funding) for a total of up to $600,000 over four years. This year, five awardees received Stage 2 funding:

Christin E. Burd, PhD
  • Christin E. Burd, PhD, of The Ohio State University in Columbus, will conduct mutation-specific studies of RAS in a variety of tumor types, including melanoma, thyroid cancer, and acute myeloid leukemia. She hopes her research will lead to a new understanding of RAS mechanism and function, resulting in better targeted therapeutics.
Scott J. Dixon, PhD
  • Scott J. Dixon, PhD, of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, is studying whether the altered metabolism of cancer cells creates new vulnerabilities that can be exploited therapeutically. He is investigating how NRF2 balances the demand for new glutathione synthesis with the need to avoid glutathione-mediated reductive stress (a cellular concept in which too much glutathione could lead to cell growth arrest and death).
Philip A. Romero, PhD
  • Philip A. Romero, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, is developing a new technology that can be used to detect circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the bloodstream. His approach is to develop a “DNA-based logic circuit” to detect and profile CTCs, which could ultimately be applied to cancer diagnosis, prognosis indication, and patient response.
Peter J. Turnbaugh, PhD
  • Peter J. Turnbaugh, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, seeks to determine how the gut microbiome contributes to drug efficacy and resistance.
Roberto Zoncu, PhD
  • Roberto Zoncu, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, will synthesize novel molecules that can specifically disable the lysosomal-mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 signaling pathway to block tumor growth. He will investigate how this pathway controls the function of the lysosome and the mitochondria in mediating the resilience of cancer cells.

Source: Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation press release, January 23, 2018.