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​AACR Gertrude B. Elion Cancer Research Award

The AACR Gertrude B. Elion Cancer Research Award represents a joint effort to encourage and support tenure-eligible junior faculty. The research proposed for funding must focus on research in cancer etiology, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention and may be basic, translational, or clinical in nature.

2018 Grantee

Chao Lu, PhD PhotoChao Lu, PhD
Assistant Professor
Columbia University in the City of New York
New York, New York
Chao Lu, PhD 1 Line SpacerReprogramming of Chromatin States in Cancer

Scientific Statement of Research
The atypical nuclear structure in cancerous cells has been routinely used in the clinic to distinguish tumor cells from their normal counterparts for over 150 years, and recently genetic alterations of chromatin modulators, modifiers and effectors were reported in a wide array of cancer types. Dr. Lu’s previous work has demonstrated that cancer-associated chromatin-perturbing mutations are bona fide oncogenes and affect programs of stem cell self-renewal/differentiation. These studies evoked significant interests in the field to understand chromatin abnormality and (mis)regulation of gene expression in cancer. To date, such efforts have largely focused on small-scale genomic regions such as promoters, gene-bodies and enhancers. However, the fact that tumors often exhibit nuclear morphological changes that are microscopically visible suggests that large-scale remodeling of chromatin organization is common in cancer through mechanisms that remain poorly characterized. The current proposal employs innovative (epi)genomic and imaging technologies to define molecular mechanisms underlying aberrant division and organization of chromatin domains in cancer and their impact on transcriptional and lineage infidelity during tissue homeostasis and tumorigenesis. Since pathologic remodeling of chromatin states has been correlated with a variety of molecular and cellular hallmarks of cancer, the translational implication of expected results could be potentially far-reaching.

Dr. Chao Lu received his PhD from University of Pennsylvania and completed postdoctoral fellowship at the Rockefeller University. In 2018, he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Genetics and Development and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University. Collectively, Dr. Lu's work has identified the molecular mechanisms by which high-frequency mutations in chromatin regulators reprogram genome-wide chemical modifications of DNA and histones. These studies demonstrate that chromatin mutations are pro-oncogenic through blockade of cellular differentiation. Dr. Lu's goal is to apply these mechanistic insights to advance current molecular diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other human diseases.

Acknowledgement of Support
I am thrilled to receive the AACR Gertrude B. Elion Cancer Research Award because it demonstrates the recognition of our work by the cancer research community. The award also provides the freedom for us to pursue high-risk high-award ideas that may transform our understanding of the pathomechanisms underlying certain cancers.

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2017 Grantee


Dong-Joo (Ellen) Cheon, PhD
Assistant Professor
Albany Medical College
Albany, New York
Blocking fatty acid β-oxidation to sensitize cancer cells to cisplatin

Scientific Statement of Research
Cisplatin is the frontline treatment for ovarian cancer yet the majority of patients quickly develop resistance to cisplatin. Thus it is crucial to develop novel therapeutic strategies to inhibit cisplatin resistance. Dr. Cheon’s group previously discovered that collagen type XI alpha1 (COL11A1) is a novel biomarker strongly associated with cisplatin resistance in ovarian cancer. In this study, Dr. Cheon’s group will address their hypothesis that COL11A1 increases mitochondrial fatty acid beta oxidation (FAO) through α1β1 integrin, thereby protecting cancer cells from cisplatin-induced apoptosis. They will use genetic and pharmaceutical approaches to block COL11A1, FAO, and α1β1 integrin, and then measure tumor cells’ response to cisplatin in vitro and in vivo. Since ovarian cancer cells frequently disseminate to the fat-rich omentum and use the fat for growth and survival, results from this study would yield blocking FAO as a novel therapeutic strategy to inhibit cisplatin resistance.

Dong-Joo (Ellen) Cheon, Ph.D., has been an assistant professor in the Department of Regenerative and Cancer Cell Biology at Albany Medical College (Albany, NY) since 2015. Dr. Cheon earned her B.A. and M.S. from Seoul National University (Seoul, Korea) and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX) under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Behringer. Dr. Cheon received her postdoctoral training with Dr. Sandra Orsulic at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles, CA). Dr. Cheon’s research focuses on the development of novel therapeutic strategies that block tumor-stroma interaction and inhibit ovarian cancer dissemination and chemotherapy resistance.

Acknowledgement of Support
It is my great honor to accept the 2017 AACR Gertrude B. Elion Cancer Research Award. This award will help continue my vital research on a currently incurable cancer and allow me to achieve my goals of developing novel therapies and becoming a future leader in cancer research.

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