UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

April/May 2016

Great science leads to great medicine. That is why a major focus for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) is a keen emphasis on the identification of critical areas of scientific inquiry and the recruitment and retention of creative and energetic investigators who are engaged in discovery science that has implications for cancer. Of course, these scientists need a supportive environment and sufficient resources to carry out their work. Though much work is funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health, we at UPCI are highly reliant on grant support from our philanthropic partners as well. Frequently, such cancer charities target funding to early scientists through highly competitive grant programs, which can help start new researchers on the path to scientific success.

Over the last month, several of our most recent recruits to the cancer discovery team at UPCI have been selected for early investigator grants by the most prestigious national cancer philanthropies, and we could not be more proud!

The American Cancer Society awarded four-year research grants to Drs. Kara Bernstein, Kathy Shair, and Daolin Tang. Kara will support her work using a model organism, yeast, to probe the mechanisms by which DNA is damaged and then repaired, which is critical work as DNA damage is a hallmark for cancer of all types. About 20% of cancers around the globe are related to pathogens like viruses, and Kathy is one of a growing number of scientists who try to understand how certain viruses lead to cancer. Her focus is on how a common virus to which we are all exposed, Epstein-Barr Virus, can lead to nasopharyngeal cancer, a common cancer in Asia. Daolin studies the many mechanisms by which normal and cancer cells die in the hope that he can find better ways to approach one of the most lethal cancers, pancreatic cancer.

Susan G. Komen awarded a Career Catalyst award to Dr. Mei Zhang. This grant will provide partial support for her innovative work exploring the role of stem cells in the mammary gland and, by extension, breast cancer.

Finally, for the first time since 2011, a newer cancer charity, Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) selected a new class of ten Innovator awardees. Through a highly competitive process that included a written application and an in-person "American Idol" type of presentation to a panel of international cancer experts, two UPCI investigators, Drs. Kara Bernstein and Greg Delgoffe, were named as 2016 recipients of Innovative Research Grants.

Greg works in the fast moving area of cancer immunology, seeking to understand what goes wrong with the immune system when cancer develops and how we might overcome these defects to prevent or treat cancer.

We at UPCI are delighted that some of our scientists are felt to be among the best and the brightest and the most creative in the nation in their approaches to cancer. We are so grateful to organizations like the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and Stand Up to Cancer for their decision to support the career development of the next generation of cancer scientists. We believe that their investment in next generation stars like Drs. Bernstein, Delgoffe, Shair, Tang, and Zhang is another step in the quest for a world without cancer.