Five cancer researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have recently won top accolades in their field. **NOTE VIDEO OF SCIENTISTS DISCUSSING THEIR RESEARCH BELOW**
Announced in date order, they are:
Stephen B. Baylin, M.D. | Watch Video | Internationally recognized scientist Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., has been awarded the Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for basic and translational cancer research, along with his colleague Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the University of Southern California/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Baylin and Jones were selected for their work in the field of epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to modifications of genes other than those changes made to the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetic modifications or “marks” generally turn genes on of off. Because genes carry the blueprints to make proteins in every cell of the body, epigentics play a key role in how our cells behave. Baylin and Jones have established there is a major epigenetic component in the onset and progression of cancer.
The Kirk A. Landon-AACR awards are recognized as among the most prestigious international awards given to cancer researchers by a professional society of their peers. Each honoree receives a cash prize and presents a special lecture during the annual meeting held this year in Denver on April 20.
Victor Velculescu, M.D., Ph.D. | Watch Video | Romanian-born Victor Velculescu has won the 2009 Outstanding Achievement Award in Cancer Research from the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR). The award recognizes young investigators for their contributions to the field. He will receive his prize and give a lecture at the AACR annual meeting on April 22 in Denver.
Velculescu (pronounced Vel-ku-les-ku) pinpointed the PIK3CA gene as one of the most frequently mutated genes ever identified in human cancer. He also developed a method to rapidly identify disease-related genes and measure gene expression called SAGE (Serial Analysis of Gene Expression), and, with his colleagues, developed the first draft genome sequence of the four human cancer types: breast, colorectal, pancreatic and an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme.
Donald Small, M.D., Ph.D. | Watch Video | Childhood cancer specialist Donald Small, M.D., Ph.D., received the Frank A. Oski Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology on April 24, during its annual meeting in San Diego. The award honors clinicians and basic science investigators in pediatric hematology and oncology who have made significant research contributions to the field.
Small and his team were the first to clone the human FLT3 receptor gene, which is the most frequently mutated gene in acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). The FLT3 mutation is a predictor of poor survival for patients with this mutation. Discovering that the gene contributes to turning normal hematopoietic blood cells into leukemic cells, the team then found small molecules capable of inhibiting the receptor and showed that these drugs would kill leukemia cells with the FLT3 mutation, while leaving normal blood cells unharmed leading to a new targeted therapy for acute leukemia.
From there, Small led the design of clinical trials using one of these drugs, first as a monotherapy, and later in combination with chemotherapy for adults with AML. Most recently, the drug has entered clinical trials through the Children’s Oncology Group for children with FLT3 mutant AML and infants with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
The annual Frank A. Oski Memorial Award and Lecture is named for Frank Oski, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in children's blood disorders and nutrition, an outspoken advocate for breast feeding, and a social activist. As part of his award, Small will deliver the Frank A. Oski Memorial Lecture entitled “FLT3: Biology and Targeting in Leukemia.”
Leisha Emens, M.D., Ph.D. | Watch Video | Breast cancer expert Leisha Emens, M.D., Ph.D., earned the Great Baltimore Area YWCA President’s Award for her work in developing a breast cancer vaccine. The award recognizes women who exemplify the YWCA’s tradition of leadership--combining professional excellence with a personal commitment to helping others.
The award will be presented to Emens at the YWCA’s annual Leader Lunch on May 8. the YWCA’s Leader Lunch event pays tribute to extraordinary women leaders in the Baltimore metropolitan area, selected for their accomplishments in business, education, and civic life,
Emens began clinical trials on a vaccine to treat breast cancer in 2004, and continues further work in this area today. Recently, her efforts were the basis for a series in the Baltimore Sun titled “Trial of Their Lives,” which chronicled the experiences of four patients.
Bert Vogelstein, M.D. | Watch Video | Bert Vogelstein, M.D., whose published studies of cancer genetics are the most highly cited works in the field, will receive this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology “Science of Oncology” Award at the group’s annual meeting in Orland, Fla., on June 1.
Vogelstein was selected for his role in discovering the specific genes and mutations responsible for colorectal cancer and for establishing a genetic model that explains how most solid tumors form and progress. In addition to discovering these genes, Vogelstein and his team have developed blood tests which are now used to identify patients with inherited mutations in the genes linked to colorectal cancer. They are currently working on the development of non-invasive methods to detect individuals who have early, curable colorectal tumors and to design therapies based on the new understanding of the molecular basis of cancer.
In the past year, Vogelstein and colleagues mapped the complete genetic blueprints for pancreatic and brain cancer, two of the most deadly tumor types. And they completed the first genome maps for breast cancer and colorectal cancer in 2007.