Sylvester Hosts 8th Annual Landon-AACR Cancer Research Award Lectures
The Miller School’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center proudly hosted the American Association for Cancer Research and Kirk A. Landon and Dorothy P. Landon Foundation awards and lectures on Friday, February 26, with Kirk Landon on hand to personally congratulate the winners.
These awards are considered the most prestigious given to cancer researchers by their peers, and include a cash prize of $100,000 for each award. Landon told the young researchers and medical students in the audience for the eighth annual awards that he looked forward to seeing them “follow in the footsteps” of the recipients.
This year’s Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for Basic Cancer Research was jointly awarded to Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., director of the University of Southern California/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and distinguished professor of urology, biochemistry and molecular biology at the Keck School of Medicine, and Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins University. Jones and Baylin were recognized for their work in the field of epigenetics.
Researchers have discovered there is a second layer of genetic information that is not in DNA, but rather embedded in proteins that surround DNA. Baylin and Jones have established that there is a major epigenetic component in cancer causation and malignant cell growth. In essence, in many cancers, genes that should be ‘on’ are permanently silenced. As Jones explained, “the goal is to develop drugs that turn these genes back on,” and to do that, scientists must understand how they are silenced in the first place. Baylin and Jones are working with specific drug combinations in clinical trials, trying to reverse this gene silencing.
Charles L. Sawyers, M.D., investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and chairman of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, received the Dorothy P. Landon-AACR Prize for Translational Cancer Research. He has been recognized for discovering the mechanism of resistance to drugs like Gleevec (imatinib) in chronic myeloid leukemia. He has also focused on the molecular basis of prostate cancer and currently has a clinical trial at multiple sites for men with this disease.
The Landon-AACR Prizes in cancer research were first presented in 2002 to promote and reward critical contributions to defeating cancer. Last year, the first Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Awards for International Collaboration and Cancer Prevention were handed out to recognize the importance of international collaboration and outstanding achievement by an early career scientist.
This year’s INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research was presented to Gregory P. Tochtrop, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University, for his work expanding the knowledge of triterpenoids. These are naturally occurring organic chemicals which have a role as small molecule chemopreventive agents. In his presentation, he detailed his team’s exploration of how these natural chemicals might be used to reduce the inflammation sequence in inflammatory-based cancers.
Josep M. Llovet, M.D., professor of research at the Institut d’Investigacions Biomediques August Pi Sunyer Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, received the Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration but was unable to attend the event. His colleague, Augusto Villanueva, M.D., a post-doctoral researcher in Llovet’s Barcelona laboratory, presented the lecture. Llovet is recognized for his efforts uniting researchers in the study of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world. He also worked to assemble the HCC Genomic Consortium, an international group of basic and translational researchers to analyze gene samples related to liver cancer. Villanueva explained how this international consortium, which includes teams from Italy, New York and Boston, is concentrating on the molecular classification of HCC as they try to zero in on potential gatekeepers of liver cancer.
Each of the presenters was recognized with a round of applause in appreciation for their research contributions and lecture. W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., chief medical officer of Sylvester and professor of otolaryngology, said there “hasn’t been a year when our faculty and students have not benefitted from this symposium.”