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Researchers at UAlbany's Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics Awarded Research Foundation Grant to Study Cancer Cell Dormancy Genes

Contact: Michael Parker (518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 20, 2004) - Julio Aguirre-Ghiso, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the University at Albany Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics (GCECG) has been awarded a two-year $230,000 grant from the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation (SWCRF) to study genes that determine whether cancer cells that spread throughout the body will continue to proliferate and form life threatening large secondary tumor masses or become dormant and harmless.

Douglas Conklin, a GCECG co-investigator and assistant professor will collaborate with Aguirre-Ghiso’s lab using high throughput gene discovery technology to determine the extent of each gene’s functional contribution to cancer cell dormancy.

“More than half of cancer patients will die from metastatic disease -- that is, cancer that has spread throughout the body -- that develops months, years, or even decades after an initial tumor is removed,” said Aguirre-Ghiso. “The aim of our research is to discover the molecular genetic programs that govern a disseminated cancer cell’s decision to proliferate or stay dormant so we can force the cancer cells to stay dormant forever. We hope that this will lead to important benefits for patients.”

Established nearly 30 years ago by grateful patients and their friends and families, the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation is a non-profit, international organization that is dedicated to supporting a focused research program to develop targeted cancer cell-specific therapies with minimal toxicity.

Aguirre-Ghiso is one of four cancer researchers who received the prestigious Waxman award this year in a review of dozens of candidates. The review is conducted by an independent, external committee of eminent scientists who critique the research and assess the merits of the work for further funding, as well as the demonstration of collaboration.

Aguirre-Ghiso and his colleagues will participate in “Institute Without Walls,”a multi-disciplinary program supported by SWCRF. "Creating cancer cell dormancy offers a therapy that can convert cancer into a chronic disorder with long life expectancy for the patient, such as diabetes,” said Dr. Samuel Waxman, of SWCRF.

"Doctors Aguirre-Ghiso and Conklin are pioneers in their respective fields of cancer biology and functional genomics," said Paulette McCormick, director of GCECG. “The Waxman award, known among cancer researchers as a highly prestigious and exclusive honor, is validation of the powerful potential of their collaborative research. We are proud of their work and eager to watch as their research leads to the understanding of dormancy and potential treatments for cancer.”

About the Scientists

Julio A. Aguirre-Ghiso joined GCECG from The Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, where he was a post-doctoral fellow. His research focus is tumor metastasis (the spreading of a tumor from one location in the body to another). He is co-author of more than 20 papers published in such leading cancer research journals as Cancer Cell, Cancer Research, Molecular Biology of the Cell, Current Opinion in Cell Biology, The Journal of Cell Biology, Oncogene and the International Journal of Cancer. He is also a frequent lecturer and reviewer for numerous scientific journals and organizations.

Aguirre-Ghiso received his master's degree in molecular genetics and biotechnology in 1994 and his doctorate in molecular cell biology in 1997, both from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has earned numerous awards and honors from the University of Buenos Aires, where he also received undergraduate and graduate fellowships. He is a co-recipient of two Florencio Fiorini Foundation awards from the Argentine League for the Fight Against Cancer, and the highly competitive and prestigious Charles H. Revson Fellowship in Biomedical Research, an award granted to selected scientists at four New York City medical institutions.

Douglas S. Conklin comes to GCECG from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, New York, where he was a research investigator studying RNA interference (RNAi), a natural process by which scientists can ‘silence’ genes to study the effect that the gene’s de-activation has on a disease or normal physiologic functions. Prior to his work at Cold Spring Harbor, Conklin was a senior staff scientist at Genetica, Inc., a Cambridge, MA biotechnology company. He is co-author of several research papers and his work has been published in prestigious journals such as Nature, Science, Nature Structural Biology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Molecular Cell Biology. He is a co-holder of two awarded patents, one of which focuses on the use of RNA interference as a laboratory technique, and another regarding modified retroviral vectors (a method of introducing genetic material into living mammalian cells). In addition to being an avid lecturer, he has won several awards, including two National Institutes of Health trainee awards and a Damon Runyan-Walter Winchell Postgraduate Fellowship.

Conklin’s current work with RNAi is among the most advanced in the field of functional genomics. RNAi can be used to develop diagnostics and to validate targets for new therapies. In addition, RNAi itself may be used therapeutically by silencing genes that directly contribute to disease.

About the Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics

The Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics (GCECG) was founded with the support of Senator Joseph Bruno, majority leader of the New York State Senate, the state’s Gen*NY*Sis program, and the University at Albany to provide the Capital District with cutting-edge expertise in cancer biology. Its new research facility, on the University’s East Campus in Rensselaer, N.Y., is scheduled to open in the beginning of 2005. More information about the Center and the researchers can be found at www.albany.edu/cancergenomics.

 


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