The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, has named 15 new Damon Runyon Fellows, including three from Harvard. The recipients of this prestigious, three-year award are outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators across the country. The fellowship encourages the nation’s most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding ($156,000 each) to work on innovative projects.

The 2013 Damon Runyon Fellows from Harvard:

Serkan Kir, a research fellow in cell biology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, with his sponsor Bruce M. Spiegelman, the Stanley J. Korsmeyer Professor of Cell Biology and Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), is studying the signaling mechanisms that mediate cancer cachexia, a wasting disorder of adipose fat tissue and skeletal muscle that leads to profound weight loss. Up to 50 percent of cancer patients suffer from cachexia, which reduces quality of life, limits treatment options, and shortens survival time. Identification of tumor-derived factors that regulate this process could lead to new therapeutic strategies to prevent cancer cachexia.

Summer B. Thyme, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular and cellular biology, with her sponsor Alexander F. Schier, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, is engineering protein tools to alter epigenetic modifications in important developmental pathways in a zebrafish model. Epigenetic misregulation, particularly of key regulators of cell fate specification, underlies a vast number of cancers. These tools could be applied to reprogram cell fate, as a means of treating epigenetically mediated diseases such as cancer.

Ozlem Yildirim, a research fellow in genetics at HMS, with her sponsor Robert E. Kingston, a professor of genetics at HMS and at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), a Harvard affiliate, aims to identify factors that maintain cellular identity during mammalian cell proliferation. This will shed light on how cells remember which cell type they were and should become after division. A mechanistic understanding of this process will yield new insights into the many cell fate changes cancer cells display during their abnormal growth.

Pearls of Persian art