Melanoma Scientist Among 6 in NYC Awarded Prestigious Research Prize

Melanoma Scientist Among 6 in NYC Awarded Prestigious Research Prize

The Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance has announced the six winners of the fourth edition of the annual Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research, one of which is advancing research in the field of melanoma.

The Pershing Square Prize is awarded annually to promising young scholars in New York City. Awardees receive $200,000 in funding per year for up to three years, for a total of $600,000 to support explorative, innovative research in different cancer fields. This year’s awards will be presented May 24.

“The Pershing Square Sohn Prize invests in brilliant, early career scientists who are on their way to making significant contributions to the field of cancer research,” Bill Ackman, co-founder of the Pershing Square Foundation and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, said in a press release. “We are proud to support these scientists and their innovative research as they work to discover a cure for cancer.”

Richard White, MD, PhD, assistant member at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer center, was the recipient of one of the six awards, for his research on tumor microenvironments to identify new cell types that could be used as targets against melanoma.

White used zebrafish to uncover novel interactions between melanoma cells and fat cells, suggesting that the adipocytes (fat cells) promote melanoma progression and metastasis.

“Up until recently, little attention has been paid to how seemingly normal cells contribute to cancer metastasis. The Pershing prize will allow us to deeply interrogate the role of adipocytes, which are the fat storing cells scattered throughout every vertebrate, from fish to humans. Our work so far shows that these fat cells directly fuel the metastatic cancer cells, and the Pershing prize will allow us to figure out novel ways to interrupt this connection. Although our work starts in the zebrafish, we believe that our findings will have major therapeutic utility for the treatment of humans with metastatic cancer,” White said on his Pershing Square Prize web page.

White’s work might help discover new therapeutic targets for the treatment of melanoma. Because of the importance of his research, his project will be co-funded by the Prize and by the Melanoma Research Alliance.

The other five winners are:

  • Daniel Heller, PhD, who has created a nanotechnology platform to develop personalized medicines targeting the many mutations in a patient’s tumor while steering drugs away from healthy cells to avoid toxicity;
  • Erini Papapetrou, MD, PhD, who is working on stem cell research and CRISPR genome editing to help treat blood disorders;
  • Juan Cubillos-Ruiz, PhD, who is investigating the main mechanism that hinders the immune system’s ability to fight the growth of ovarian tumors;
  • Mikala Egeblad, PhD, who will look into the relationship between chronic inflammation and the metastatic recurrence of breast cancer by exploring the role of neutrophils, a specific immune cell;
  • Yimon Aye, PhD, who is working on the aspects of ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) function and regulation that could play an important role in treating drug-resistant B-cell lymphomas;

“The quality work and innovation demonstrated by the 2017 Prize winners is truly impressive,” said Olivia Tournay Flatto, PhD, president of the Pershing Square Foundation. “We are deeply inspired by these young investigators and the spirit of collaboration among New York’s life-sciences researchers and the institutions with whom they’re working. It will be thrilling to witness the culmination of their efforts as they pursue innovative and groundbreaking cures and treatments.”

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