Posted on February 1, 2013
5 winning cancer research teams from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College
New York, NY — Cancer research teams from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medical College, the New York City based members of the Starr Cancer Consortium (SCC), are winners of $5 million in grant awards from The Starr Foundation’s Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition to fund five novel cancer research projects.
The Starr Cancer Consortium (SCC), established in 2006 through a generous gift from The Starr Foundation, advances research in new ways that will have an impact on the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer. The SCC is a collaborative framework among five institutions — The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell.
“We congratulate the winners of The Starr Foundation’s Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition,” says Florence A. Davis, president of The Starr Foundation. “This Consortium has launched a number of innovative, collaborative cancer research projects that are already linking discoveries in the laboratory to the clinic. Better patient outcomes are our ultimate goal and we see progress every year.”
“We believe these five novel, collaborative research projects have the potential to deepen our understanding of cancers and transform detection and treatment,” says Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman of The Starr Foundation’s Board of Directors. “Our dedicated support of these novel research teams fosters collaboration to gain a deeper understanding of the molecular underpinnings of each diverse cancer and accelerate research to prevent or cure the disease.”
“Starr Foundation funding has enabled us to forge important alliances while undertaking innovative, highly promising research that would not otherwise have been possible,” says Memorial Sloan-Kettering President Craig B. Thompson. “This initiative has proven that collaboration leads to more-rapid advancement of cancer research from the laboratory to clinical applications.”
“We are extremely grateful to The Starr Foundation for its generous and continued support of collaborative biomedical research in New York City,” says Marc Tessier-Lavigne, president of The Rockefeller University. “By harnessing the talent of the city’s leading scientific lights across multiple institutions, The Starr Cancer Consortium is poised to make progress in our understanding of the origins of cancer and, ultimately, its treatment.”
“Weill Cornell sincerely thanks The Starr Foundation for its continuous support to advance team science in New York City,” says Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. “Cancer research shouldn’t have any barriers or institutional walls to finding discoveries and cures for our cancer patients.”
This year, the Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition received 27 grant applications, selecting only five collaborative cancer research projects as winners. Each of the five exceptional research projects was awarded a two-year grant totaling $1 million.
The Sixth Starr Cancer Consortium Grant Competition Grant awardees include:
Dr. C. David Allis, of The Rockefeller University, is the principal investigator for “Elucidating Mechanisms of Histone H3.3 Mutants-Mediated Oncogenesis in Pediatric Brain Cancers.” This research project will investigate how histone H3.3 mutations affect the epigenetic landscape to mediate the development of pediatric gliomas. The goal of the study is to generate novel insight about pediatric gliomagenesis, streamline clinical translation of pediatric glioma treatment and identify novel therapeutic strategies. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Cameron Brennan, Dr. Yu Chen, Dr. Ping Chi and Dr. Viviane Tabar from Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Dr. Jeffrey Greenfield from Weill Cornell.
Dr. Olivier Elemento, of Weill Cornell, is the principal investigator for “Comprehensive Elucidation of the Mechanisms of Action of Anticancer Molecules.” This research project will identify the mechanisms of action of anticancer molecules using a novel chemical genomic approach based on next-generation sequencing developed by the research team. The goal of the study is to improve the efficacy of anticancer molecules and advance the development of strategies to overcome drug resistance in patients. The team will examine cancer drugs whose mechanisms of action are partially characterized and will elucidate the resistance signature of each cancer drug; that is, the many ways by which cancer cells can develop resistance to the drug. These signatures will help identify strategies to improve drug efficacy and will predict which drugs can be combined to maximize efficacy and slow down the acquisition of resistance. The co-principal investigator for this study is Dr. Tarun Kapoor of Rockefeller University.
Dr. Todd Evans, of Weill Cornell, is the principal investigator for “Discovery of AID-dependent Epigenetic Mechanisms in Hematological Malignancies.” Study investigations will focus on activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID), a gene that regulates cytosine methylation patterns that may control the epigenetic landscape of hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, and can impact cancer by regulating DNA methylation patterns. The goal of the study is to discover and target epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to hematological malignancies such as lymphoma and leukemia and identify novel therapeutic targets. The research team’s preliminary data suggest AID functions as a tumor promoter in lymphoma, and as a tumor suppressor in myeloid leukemia. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Jayanta Chaudhuri and Dr. Ross Levine from Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Dr. Olivier Elemento, Dr. Ari Melnick and Dr. Rita Shaknovich from Weill Cornell.
Dr. Minkui Luo, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, is the principal investigator of the research project “Define Oncogenic Mechanisms of Protein Methyltransferases SETDB1 and SUV39H1 in Melanoma.” This study is expected to unravel the oncogenic roles of two PKMTs (SETDB1 and SUV39H1) recently identified as key players in BRAF melanoma. These findings will allow researchers to manipulate the downstream epigenetic targets of PKMTs for novel diagnosis and cancer therapy. The goal is to study the molecular targets of PKMTs and define the downstream oncogenic events through in vitro cell-based and in vivo zebrafish melanoma models. This research may have a direct impact on diagnosis, early intervention, treatment or even prevention of melanoma. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Steven Gross, Dr. Yariv Houvras and Dr. Ari Melnick from Weill Cornell.
Dr. Gary Schwartz, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering, is the principal investigator for “Therapeutic Targeting of IDH1 and IDH2 Mutations in Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) and Chondrosarcoma.” Recurrent somatic mutations in the isocitrate dehydrogenase I (IDH1 and IDH2) genes have been identified in gliomas, acute myeloid leukemias (AML), cholangiocarcinoma and most recently in cartilaginous neoplasms. Mutations in these genes lead to impaired ability of IDH1 and IDH2. The goal of this study is to gain knowledge of the mechanisms of transformation by IDH mutations to facilitate the development of new targeted drugs against IDH1 and IDH2 mutant cancers including chondrosarcoma and AML. Researchers aim to elucidate both cell-type specific epigenetic signatures and reveal deeper insights into the epigenetic, reversible mechanisms underlying disease initiation and progression in IDH mutant malignancies. Co-principal investigators include Dr. Ross Levine of Memorial Sloan-Kettering and Dr. Ari Melnick of Weill Cornell.
The Starr Cancer Consortium is intended largely to support critical mass, collaborative projects with the potential for transforming impact on the understanding and treatment of cancer, through the development and systematic application of molecular technologies, by investigating cancer biology or addressing important clinical problems. It is aimed at encouraging meaningful and ambitious collaborations between and among the participating institutions to develop and apply innovative approaches to transform cancer research and ultimately diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. The goals of the Starr Cancer Consortium are: to drive the development of technology for molecular characterization of cancer by forging productive alliances among scientists at the five participating institutions; to apply these new technologies in joint projects directed at diverse cancers, in the process gaining a deeper understanding of the molecular basis of these cancers and defining new paradigms for cancer research, diagnosis and treatment, and to accelerate research of the basic biological mechanisms underlying the development of cancers.
Starr Foundation Support for the Three Institutions
The Starr Foundation was established in 1955 by Cornelius Vander Starr, the founder of C.V. Starr & Co., Starr International Co., and other companies, some of which were combined by Mr. Starr’s successor, Maurice R. Greenberg, to form what became American International Group (AIG). Mr. Starr’s wish was that his partners would continue the companies and the Foundation under Mr. Greenberg’s leadership. Mr. Greenberg has served as chairman of The Starr Foundation since 1981 and continues to lead the Starr Companies. The Foundation makes grants in education, medicine and health care, public policy, human needs, culture and the environment.
- With generous support from The Starr Foundation, researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have assembled one of the largest collections of human embryonic stem cells, patient-specific stem cell lines and genetically modified human stem cell lines, including those registered by the federal government and others that are not. This has allowed Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators to be among the first to use patient-specific stem cells for studying human disease in the Petri dish and for use in drug discovery. The Starr Foundation has also generously helped to fund the construction of 21 new surgical suites at Memorial Sloan –Kettering, which opened in 2005.
- The Greenberg Family and The Starr Foundation have supported the missions of Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center for more than 25 years. In 1997, the Hospital opened the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Pavilion, a 776-bed inpatient facility, named in recognition of the Greenbergs’ longstanding leadership as well as their support of the Pavilion’s construction. Other notable gifts include generous contributions for building the Weill Greenberg Center and the Belfer Research Building at Weill Cornell. Additionally, the Greenbergs and The Starr Foundation have made significant contributions to Weill Cornell and NewYork-Presbyterian for its Division of Cardiology; genetic medicine program; neurological surgery programs; molecular neuropharmacology laboratory; C.V. Starr Biomedical Information Center; C.V. Starr Pavilion, an outpatient facility; Division of Geriatrics; and other programs.
- Since 1992, the Greenberg Family and The Starr Foundation have provided generous support for basic and clinical research programs at The Rockefeller University. This support includes grants creating and sustaining the Starr Center for Human Genetics; major funding for The Rockefeller University Hospital; and grants to establish and support the Center for the Study of Hepatitis C, a collaborative research and clinical effort of Rockefeller, Weill Cornell, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, co-directed by Greenberg Professor Charles Rice. The Starr Foundation has also provided generous support for establishing the Collaborative Research Center at the University.
- In April 2012, The Starr Foundation continued its historic commitment to stem cell research with a $50 million gift in support of the Tri-Institutional Stem Cell Initiative (Tri-SCI), which was established through a generous grant from the Foundation in 2005. The new gift, awarded to Tri-SCI members — Memorial Sloan-Kettering, The Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell– supports and enhance collaborative, pioneering stem cell research at the three adjacent Manhattan campuses.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is the world’s oldest and largest private institution devoted to prevention, patient care, research and education in cancer. Its scientists and clinicians generate innovative approaches to better understand, diagnose and treat cancer. The Center’s specialists are leaders in biomedical research and in translating the latest research to advance the standard of cancer care worldwide. It is a pioneer in the research and use of hematopoietic stem cells to treat blood-related cancers — an area that provides the only current example of an FDA-approved stem cell therapy in routine practice. Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators were the first to propose umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells suitable for transplanting, and the first to identify human mesenchymal stem cells in bone marrow. Highly promising work today includes studies aimed at identifying and characterizing cancer stem cells in multiple forms of the disease. Research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering has also resulted in methods to turn neural stem cells and embryonic stem cells into specialized neurons of the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. Using such strategies, Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators are engaged in studies ranging from the use of embryonic stem cells to repair damage caused by radiation treatment for brain tumors to the development of cell-based therapeutic strategies targeting Parkinson’s disease or type I diabetes. For more information, go to www.mskcc.org.
The Rockefeller University
Founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1901, The Rockefeller University was this nation’s first biomedical research institution. Hallmarks of the university include a research environment that provides scientists with the support they need to do imaginative science and a truly international graduate program that is unmatched for the freedom and resources it provides students to develop their capacities for innovative research. The Rockefeller University Hospital, founded in 1910 as the first center for clinical research in the United States, remains a place where researchers combine laboratory investigations with bedside observations to provide a scientific basis for disease detection, prevention and treatment. Since the institution’s founding, Rockefeller University has been the site of many important scientific breakthroughs. Rockefeller scientists, for example, established that DNA is the chemical basis of heredity, identified the weight-regulating hormone leptin, discovered blood groups, showed that viruses can cause cancer, founded the modern field of cell biology, worked out the structure of antibodies, devised the AIDS “cocktail” drug therapy and developed methadone maintenance for people addicted to heroin. Throughout Rockefeller’s history, 24 scientists associated with the university have received the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine and chemistry, and 21 scientists associated with the university have been honored with the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award. Five Rockefeller University scientists have been named MacArthur Foundation Fellows, and 20 have garnered the National Medal of Science. Currently, the university’s award-winning faculty includes six Nobel laureates, seven Lasker Award winners and three recipients of the National Medal of Science. Thirty-four of the faculty are elected members of the National Academy of Sciences. For more information, go to www.rockefeller.edu.
Weill Cornell Medical College
Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University’s medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside, aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, the Medical College is the first in the U.S. to offer its M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances — including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease and, most recently, the world’s first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with the Methodist Hospital in Houston. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.