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AACR Honors Eminent Researchers

April 16, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The world’s leading researchers whose efforts have significantly contributed to progress in the fight against cancer will be recognized by the American Association for Cancer Research at its 101st Annual Meeting 2010, held April 17-21, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

A series of awards given annually by the AACR, the world’s largest professional organization representing cancer scientists from the United States and nearly 90 other countries, honors outstanding accomplishments in basic cancer research, clinical research, epidemiology, therapeutics and prevention. Each recipient presents an educational lecture at the annual meeting.

“AACR member scientists are making great strides in basic, translational and clinical research, as well as population science and prevention. Their work is having an enormous impact on the pace of discovery,” said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the AACR. “We are extremely proud to honor their outstanding work because these achievements are saving lives around the world.”

The honorees are:

Elaine V. Fuchs, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Rebecca C. Lancefield professor and head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development at The Rockefeller University, will be awarded the 13th annual AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship. Fuchs will be recognized for identifying paradigm-shifting molecular, biochemical and genetic mechanisms in mice that elucidated the process by which skin stem cells develop into tissues — the epidermis and its appendages — and how hair follicle stem cells become activated, a process broadly applicable to many types of stem cells.

The lectureship recognizes an outstanding scientist who has made meritorious contributions to the field of cancer research and who has, through leadership or by example, furthered the advancement of women in science.

For three decades, Fuchs’ studies have led the way in the fundamental understanding of skin and its disorders, including cancers. She addresses the normal mechanisms by which stem cells are formed during development and are used during differentiation of epidermis and its appendages. In so doing, she has uncovered the normal pathways that cause stem cells to change from a resting to proliferative state. These pathways, when awry, lead to cancer.

The AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship was established in 1998 to honor renowned virologist and discoverer of the Friend virus, Charlotte Friend, Ph.D., for her pioneering research on viruses, cell differentiation and cancer.

Fuchs’ lecture, “Skin Stem Cells in Morphogenesis and Cancer,” is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 17, in Ballroom C of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Pasi A. Jänne, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, will be awarded the 34th annual AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award for making noteworthy contributions to the understanding of the biology of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) in lung cancer and the use of these findings to improve patient care.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be receiving this award,” said Jänne. “I am particularly grateful to all of the lung cancer patients who continue to inspire me on a daily basis.”

Jänne’s research concentrates on EGFR inhibitors in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In 2004, he was the co-first author of a seminal study that identified somatic mutations in EGFR in NSCLC tumors and demonstrated their association with the efficacy of the EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitor gefitinib. This discovery helped explain why, despite the presence of EGFR in most lung cancers, only 10 percent to 15 percent of patients’ tumors regress with gefitinib. These observations were clinically validated; results of a randomized, Phase III clinical trial demonstrated that gefitinib is more effective than chemotherapy in improving progression-free survival rates for NSCLC patients harboring EGFR mutations. These observations contributed to a change in the treatment of NSCLC patients harboring EGFR mutations.

The discovery of the connection between EGFR mutational status and efficacy of drugs targeting the receptor is leading to additional studies of other signaling pathway components that interact with EGFR. Jänne is actively researching mechanisms of resistance to EGFR targeted therapies and using these findings to develop novel therapeutic strategies and initiate clinical trials for lung cancer patients that have developed drug resistance to EGFR inhibitors gefitinib or erlotinib.

This award is designed to provide incentive to young investigators relatively early in their careers. It was established in 1977 by the AACR and the Rosenthal Foundation to recognize research that has made, or promises to make, a notable contribution to improved clinical care in the field of cancer.

Jänne’s lecture, “Genomic determinants of drug response and resistance in non-small cell lung cancer,” will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, April 21, in Ballroom C of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., American Cancer Society professor in the department of medicine (medical genetics) and department of genome sciences at the University of Washington, will deliver the fourth annual AACR-Princess Takamatsu Memorial Lecture for international collaboration. A speaker three times over in the Princess Takamatsu International Symposium, and a Princess Takamatsu International Lecturer in 2007, she fosters collaboration with Japan and other countries.

“It is a very great honor to deliver the Takamatsu Lecture for 2010,” said King. “The late Princess Takamatsu and the Foundation that she founded have been very important to progress in cancer research and, in particular, to collaboration between cancer researchers in Japan and in the United States.”

“I am honored to continue this tradition. In my field of cancer genetics, we are poised at the beginning of a new era,” added King. “The technology of whole genome sequencing now enables us to identify all the variations in cancer cells and all inherited variation in those who are especially susceptible to cancer. In my Takamatsu lecture, I will discuss how we are applying these next generation sequencing tools to the problem of inherited predisposition to breast cancer.”

King is best known for her 1990 discovery of the BRCA1 locus for hereditary breast cancer. She has continued to work on this project, finding additional information about the genetic status of breast cancer and the molecular mechanism of BRCA1, BRCA2, and other breast cancer susceptibility genes.

The AACR Princess Takamatsu Memorial Lecture is presented to a scientist whose novel and significant work has had, or may have, a far-reaching impact on the detection, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of cancer, and who embodies the dedication of the Princess to multinational collaborations.

King’s lecture, “Inherited Predisposition to Breast and Ovarian Cancer: Fulfilling a Promise of Personalized Genomic Medicine,” will take place from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET on Monday, April 19, in room 207 of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Henry T. Lynch, M.D., professor and chairman in the department of preventive medicine and public health and professor of medicine at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb., and the Creighton University Charles F. and Mary C. Heider Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, will be awarded the 15th annual AACR Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Cancer Research. He is one of the first to delineate the genetic and clinical heterogeneity of breast cancer-prone families. Lynch documented cancer of all anatomic sites in breast cancer-prone families, and his resource became one of the largest of its type in the world.

“This award is very important to me given the fact that my early discovery of what is now known as the Lynch syndrome, which took place in the early 1960’s, received support and believability by only a limited number of cancer researchers,” said Lynch.

“During those early days the only recognized hereditary form of colorectal cancer was related to patients with hundreds or thousands of colonic adenomas known as familial polyposis coli; therefore, the believers in my work were very, very scarce. Thus I did not garner research grants, financial or intellectual support from my peers for many years,” he said. “Now, thanks in a major way to our molecular genetics colleagues who were able to identify the causative germline mutations for the Lynch syndrome, we are able to save countless lives through early prevention and diagnosis of colorectal cancer with colonoscopy, as well as prevention of several of the other integral cancers that play such a prominent role in this syndrome.”

Lynch’s research combined clinical and laboratory investigations to study a variety of hereditary cancer-prone disorders. Lynch’s most important work has been in cancer genetics and prevention of cancer, and he is recognized as a pioneer in this field. Lynch’s distinguished contribution to our knowledge of hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, the most common form of hereditary colorectal cancer, is underscored by the fact that this disease has been named after him as the Lynch syndrome.

As director of the Hereditary Cancer Institute, Lynch manages a database of thousands of family pedigrees tracing hereditary cancers and established Creighton’s Hereditary Cancer Prevention Clinic, which offers information and services related to all hereditary cancers. He is also a highly cited author in clinical medicine, having more than 850 peer-reviewed publications.

The AACR Joseph H. Burchenal Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Research is presented to a scientist who has made outstanding achievements in clinical cancer research.

Lynch’s lecture, “Phenotypic and Genotypic Update of Lynch Syndrome,” is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 20, in Ballroom C of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Joshua T. Mendell, M.D., Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Scientist and associate professor in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, is the recipient of the 30th annual AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research for his work which has addressed the regulation and function of microRNAs (miRNAs) in normal physiology and in diseases such as cancer.

“I am extremely grateful to receive this award for several reasons,” said Mendell. “First, to be included in the company of the incredible past recipients of this award is truly humbling and very exciting. I view many of these individuals as scientific role models and, therefore, following in their footsteps is very meaningful. Secondly, recognition of this type suggests that our work has addressed important scientific questions that have had a broad impact on the cancer research community. To be recognized in this way is very satisfying and provides inspiration to continue to investigate fundamental questions in cancer biology.”

Mendell’s research focuses on a recently described class of small regulatory RNAs known as miRNAs. Approximately 18 to 25 nucleotides long, these RNA molecules regulate the stability and translational efficiency of target messenger RNAs. Mammalian genomes encode over 500 distinct miRNAs and despite their strong evolutionary conservation, only the functions of a small minority have been characterized in detail. Accumulating evidence demonstrates that these molecules play essential roles in normal physiology and are commonly dysregulated in human diseases. Mendell’s laboratory is using novel in vitro and in vivo models to elucidate fundamental mechanisms of miRNA regulation and function. They are also applying these tools to understand how aberrant miRNA activity contributes to cancer and other diseases and to develop miRNA-based therapeutic strategies.

Through the generous contribution of an anonymous donor, the AACR established this Award in 1979 to give recognition to a young investigator on the basis of meritorious achievement in cancer research.

Mendell’s lecture, “microRNA Reprogramming in Cancer: Mechanisms and Therapeutic Opportunities,” will take place from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 20, in Ballroom C of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology and biostatics and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is the recipient of the fifth annual AACR Minorities in Cancer Research-Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship.

“I am extremely excited to receive this prestigious honor from the AACR,” Ramirez said. “For more than two decades, one of my top priorities has been to increase the number and quality of minority doctors and researchers engaged in cancer control and prevention. As the United States continues to grow more diverse, it will take a more diverse medical, social and behavioral research field to successfully reduce and prevent cancer among these minority populations.”

Ramirez and her colleagues have been involved in managing national and statewide programs using different communication strategies targeting Latino young and adult populations for more than 25 years. These projects include NCI-funded research networks, such as the National Hispanic Leadership Initiative on Cancer: En Acción (1992-1999) and Redes En Acción (Networks in Action): The National Hispanic/Latino Cancer Network (2000-2005). Ramirez is currently principal investigator of Redes En Acción: The National Latino Cancer Research Network, which was renewed for another five years in 2005 under the NCI’s Community Networks Program. With five regional sites across the country, the program has created a national and regional infrastructure for collaboration among grassroots leaders, local communities, researchers, and public health professionals to stimulate cancer control research, training and awareness.

Ramirez also leads these other efforts: Salud America! The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children; an NCI-funded patient navigator intervention to improve breast and cervical cancer treatment outcomes among Hispanic women; an NCI-funded project to use patient navigation to increase accrual from the Texas-Mexico border region into pediatric hematology/oncology clinical trials; a Susan G. Komen for the Cure-funded genetic evaluation for breast cancer susceptibility in Hispanic and non-Hispanic women in South Texas; and a Komen-funded project to recruit Hispanic women into breast cancer clinical trials.

The AACR-Minorities in Cancer Research Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship was established in 2006 to give recognition to an outstanding investigator who has made meritorious contributions to the field of cancer research and who has, through leadership or by example, furthered the advancement of minority investigators in cancer research.

Ramirez’ lecture, “Networks in Acción for Latino Cancer Research,” will take place from 4:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 18, in room 143 of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Stuart L. Schreiber, Ph.D., director of chemical biology and founding member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Morris Loeb professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, will be awarded the fourth annual AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chemistry in Cancer Research. Schreiber’s program serves as an illustration of how fundamental insight into the chemistry of small molecules coupled with a deep appreciation of biology can be leveraged to yield groundbreaking insights. With this pioneering interdisciplinary approach, Schreiber’s program has yielded major advances in cancer research.

“The link between chemistry and cancer biology is key to reaching society’s expectations concerning cancer research. We need a tight linkage in order to translate insights from human cancers into therapeutics that target the unique dependencies of cancers. I am deeply honored to be recognized for research from my lab at this interface,” said Schreiber. “My hope is that my lab will contribute to the goal of decoding the relationship of the cancer genotype to acquired cancer dependencies and to identifying small-molecule therapeutics that target the dependencies. This aspiration is key to enabling cancer therapeutics tailored to individual patients.”

The award is given for outstanding, novel and significant chemistry research that has led to important contributions to the fields of basic cancer research, translational cancer research, cancer diagnosis, the prevention of cancer, or the treatment of cancer patients.

Schreiber is known for having developed systematic ways to explore biology, especially disease biology, using small molecules. He is also known for his role in the development of the field of chemical biology. Schreiber has discovered principles that underlie information transfer and storage in cells, specifically discoveries relating to signaling by the phosphatase calcineurin and kinase mammalian target of rapamycin, gene regulation by chromatin-modifying histone deacetylases, and small-molecule probes of extremely difficult targets and processes that directly relate to human disease. His work has contributed to diversity-oriented synthesis and discovery-based small-molecule screening in an open data-sharing environment, and it resulted in the development of the first public small-molecule screening database named ChemBank.

The AACR and its Chemistry in Cancer Research Working Group established the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chemistry in Cancer Research in 2007 to recognize the importance of chemistry to advancements in cancer research.

Schreiber’s lecture, “Small-molecule Probes of Cancer Biology,” is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 20, in room 202 of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Michael J. Thun, M.D., emeritus vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society, will be awarded the 19th annual AACR-American Cancer Society Award for Research Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. Thun will receive this award for making seminal contributions in aspirin and cancer prevention research, etiologic and surveillance research on lung cancer in relation to the changing design of cigarettes and the development of a high-impact epidemiologic research program at the American Cancer Society (ACS).

“Epidemiology is a team sport,” said Thun. “This award honors the research contributions of the entire intramural epidemiologic research program at the American Cancer Society over the last 20 years. It’s been a great pleasure to be part of it.”

Thun’s leadership at the ACS has been instrumental in developing the Epidemiologic Research Program into a world-class center for epidemiologic research on the causes and prevention of cancer. At the ACS, he and his colleagues have published numerous influential studies on the carcinogenic risks associated with obesity, alcohol intake, exogenous hormones and air pollution.

His research on cadmium exposure in relation to lung cancer and renal toxicity during the 1980s was critical in establishing a more stringent regulatory limit on occupational exposure to cadmium, reducing the allowable air concentration by a factor of 20. Thun’s seminal research on aspirin use in relation to the risk of colon cancer and other gastrointestinal malignancies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (1991) and Cancer Research (1993) motivated a resurgence of interest in the topic of inflammation and cancer. In 2004, he coauthored a paper with Jeffrey Harris, M.D., that demonstrated lower lung cancer risk in smokers of filter-tipped cigarettes compared to those who smoked unfiltered cigarettes, but no difference in lung cancer risk was associated with brands that diluted the smoke in order to achieve lower levels of machine-measured tar. As a result of this finding and other biomarker studies, the Federal Trade Commission withdrew its approval of machine-measured smoking as a valid indication of risk to smokers, and the Food and Drug Administration banned use of the terms “light” and “mild.”

This award was established in 1992 to honor outstanding research accomplishments in the fields of cancer epidemiology, biomarkers and prevention.

Thun’s lecture, “When Science Meets Policy: Letting the Obstacles to Cancer Prevention Shape the Opportunities for Epidemiologic Research,” will take place from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 20, in room 146 of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Robert Tjian, Ph.D., president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, will be awarded the sixth annual AACR-Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lectureship for his contributions to the study of how genes work.

“Although my research has primarily been focused on fundamental mechanisms of gene control, receiving this award affirms my conviction that understanding the underlying basis of diseases like cancer can have profound implications for identifying key molecular targets and developing novel therapeutics,” said Tjian.

Tjian studies the transcription of genetic information stored in DNA into RNA, which directs the production of proteins inside cells that are essential to life. He has devised a way to isolate the individual components of the cell involved in transcription and recreate this complex, highly regulated process in a test tube. Advances in technology have also enabled Tjian to purify rare sequence-specific transcription factors, which bind to DNA at specific sites and regulate the expression of genes and to isolate the genes that encode these important transcription factors.

His work has provided new insights into the molecular mechanisms that underlie various human diseases and conditions, including Huntington’s disease, cancer, diabetes and infertility.

The AACR-Irving Weinstein Foundation Distinguished Lectureship was established in 2004 to recognize outstanding science that inspires new thinking and perspectives on the etiology, diagnosis, treatment or prevention of cancer.

Tjian’s lecture, “Transcription Factors and Cancer: An Uneasy Partnership,” will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 17, in Ballroom A-B of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

# # #

Download interviews with cancer researchers and recordings of the teleconferences by subscribing to the AACR Scientific Podcasts via iTunes or an RSS Reader.

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 31,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowship and career development awards. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes six major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and Cancer Prevention Research. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Michele Leiberman
(267) 646-0622
In Washington, D.C. April 17-21:

(202) 249-4098

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