NEW ORLEANS — Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) announced Monday that it is awarding 10 grants of $750,000 each to early-career scientists to support innovative, high-risk, high-reward projects in cancer research. The announcement was made at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C’s Scientific Partner.
“We have selected 10 scientists and projects that we believe use new insights and fresh approaches and have high potential to make a difference for people with cancer,” said William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and chairman of the SU2C Innovative Research Grant (IRG) review committee. “Just as importantly, SU2C is investing in the future of cancer research by supporting an outstanding group of early-career investigators whom we believe are rising stars in science.”
The announcement marks the third time SU2C has selected a class of Innovative Research Grant recipients. Previous classes were announced in 2009 and 2011. With the new class of IRGs, the total number of recipients now stands at 36.
Serving as Stand Up To Cancer’s celebrity ambassador at the event is Sonequa Martin-Green, 31, an actress and producer who is a main cast member in the hit television show “The Walking Dead,” in which she plays a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. In real life, she has lost several members of her extended family to cancer, and has other relatives, including her mother, who are cancer survivors.
“I have seen the terrible toll that cancer can take in a single family, so I respect and fully support these outstanding researchers in their battle against cancer,” Martin-Green said. “Hopefully the innovative ideas they are pursuing will one day spare other families the losses that my family, and so many other families have endured.”
The 10 grant recipients work at eight different institutions across the country where they have their own, independent laboratories. These innovative projects are characterized as “high-risk” because they either challenge existing paradigms, utilize novel concepts or approaches, and because in order to receive a grant, the applicants were not required—as they would be by most conventional funding mechanisms—to have already conducted a portion of the research resulting in an established base of evidence. If successful, the projects have the potential for “high-reward” in terms of saving lives.
“We’re trying to find the superstars of tomorrow and set them on their course by giving them funding so they don’t have to worry about that at this earlier stage of their career,” said Sara A. Courtneidge, PhD, associate director for translational sciences of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University and vice-chairperson of the review committee.
“These grants will allow them to get off to a really good start in their independent research programs, take this research to the next level and then apply for more traditional funding mechanisms to take it forward,” she said. “I see it as a really good opportunity for young people not to have to worry so much about where their next grant is coming from until they've got themselves established.”
The scope of the projects selected range from tumor metabolism to imaging of drug response in single cells to mathematical models of combination drug therapy to the use of certain enzymes as new anticancer targets, among other topics.
With their institutions and the titles of their proposals, the IRG recipients are:
- John G. Albeck, PhD, University of California, Davis: Targeting cellular plasticity in individual basal-type breast cancer cells;
- Kara A. Bernstein, PhD, University of Pittsburgh: Uncovering how RAD51 paralog mutations contribute to cancer predisposition;
- Juan R. Cubillos-Ruiz, PhD, Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University: Phospholipid messengers as drivers of dendritic cell dysfunction in cancer;
- Greg Michael Delgoffe, PhD, University of Pittsburgh: Metabolic reprogramming using oncolytic viruses to improve immunotherapy;
- Martin Kampmann, PhD, University of California, San Francisco: "Weak links” in cancer proteostasis networks as new therapeutic targets;
- Dan A. Landau, MD, PhD, Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University: Algorithmically-driven quantitative combination cancer therapy engineering;
- Li Ma, PhD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Deubiquitinating enzymes as novel anticancer targets;
- Melissa Skala, PhD, Vanderbilt University (moving to Morgridge Institute for Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison): Imaging cell-level heterogeneity in solid tumors for personalized treatment;
- Matthew G. Vander Heiden, MD, PhD, Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Defining the metabolic dependencies of tumors; and
- Hao Zhu, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: Defining the mechanistic connections between injury, regeneration, and cancer.
More than 250 applications were received, from which 16 finalists were chosen to make presentations in person to a committee of senior scientists.
“They were all incredibly good,” said William G. Nelson, MD, PhD, vice-chair of the review committee and director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore. “Very hard-working, ambitious, and imaginative, each and every one of them. Their ideas were high-risk and high-reward, but the young scientists themselves were sure bets. They are going to go places.”
The term of the grants begins July 1 and runs for three years. The scientists will report their progress twice a year to SU2C and the AACR, which organized the application and review process and will administer the grants.
Since 2008, SU2C has successfully launched 19 Dream Teams, two Translational Research Teams, and 36 Innovative Research Grants with funds committed by philanthropic, organizational, corporate and individual donors, as well as non-profit collaborators.
About the Stand Up To Cancer Initiative
Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by film and media leaders who utilize the industry’s resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, and to increase awareness about cancer prevention as well as progress being made in the fight against the disease. As SU2C’s scientific partner, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and a Scientific Advisory Committee led by Nobel Laureate Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, conduct rigorous, competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and provide expert review of research progress.
Current members of the SU2C Council of Founders and Advisors (CFA) include Katie Couric, Sherry
Lansing, Lisa Paulsen, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Pamela Oas Williams, Ellen Ziffren, and Kathleen Lobb. The late Laura Ziskin was also a co-founder. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., has served as SU2C’s president since 2011.
For more information on Stand Up To Cancer, visit www.standup2cancer.org.
About the American Association for Cancer Research
Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world’s first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes more than 35,000 laboratory, translational, and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and patient advocates residing in 104 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 30 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with nearly 19,300 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes eight prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients, and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration, and scientific oversight of team science and individual investigator grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and other policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit www.AACR.org.