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Cancer Training Grant Renewed

July 1, 2014 - The University of California, San Diego received a $2.5 million Institutional Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to support four predoctoral and six postdoctoral scholars in the study of growth regulation and oncogenesis. The grant is administered through the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Division of Physical Sciences.

The training program in the Biochemistry of Growth Regulation and Oncogenesis, funded under the single longest-running NCI training grant at UC San Diego, will provide funding through 2019, when it will have completed 34 years of vital training for cancer investigators.

“Past trainees have made many key discoveries that have paved the way for the ongoing revolution in personalized cancer therapies,” said Daniel Donoghue, PhD, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemstry, Provost of Sixth College at UC San Diego, and training program director. “This includes former predoctoral trainee Daniel Knighton and his mentor, Professor Susan Taylor, who solved the first crystal structure of a protein kinase in a large family of cancer targets. Other wonderful examples out of many are former postdoctoral trainee Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, now a Harvard University faculty member, who identified a new cancer target that is now being developed therapeutically; and former postdoctoral trainee Beth Baber, who established The Nicholas Conor Institute (www.TNCI.org) in 2009, a pediatric cancer institute. We are delighted that NCI has recognized the importance of our work by continuing to fund our trainees for the next five years. We can expect more key discoveries through this program.”

The core research areas of the Biochemistry of Growth Regulation and Oncogenesis training program include cell and molecular biology, signal transduction, structural biology, molecular virology, histopathology, endocrinology and drug discovery. These research programs emphasize common themes relating directly to mechanisms of cellular growth control, with four different focus groups providing an intellectual framework for the diverse research activities of the training faculty: 1) kinases, phosphatases and their signaling pathways; 2) control of cell cycle progression and DNA checkpoints; 3) transcription factors and their signaling pathways; and 4) chemistry of cancer therapeutics.

Under the leadership of Dr. Donoghue with his assistant Laura Castrejon, who has acted as coordinator, the NIH/NCI T32 training program in cancer research has been continuously funded since its inception in 1984. Dr. Donoghue is an expert in growth factor signaling pathways, which play a major role in the onset of human cancer.

The training grant is comprised of 32 participating faculty members, including seven faculty who are members of the National Academy of Sciences, one Nobel laureate, four Fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), one past president of the AACR, and one Lasker Award recipient.

All faculty are members of UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, which acts as an umbrella for the various UC San Diego units including the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Division of Biological Sciences, the School of Medicine, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, as well as the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

"All of us at some point in our lives will be touched by cancer, sadly the number one cause of mortality in San Diego," said Scott M. Lippman, MD, director of UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “We are in the beginning phases of a transformation in the detection and treatment of cancer, the rate of which will depend on our ability to train the next generation of cancer scientists who will lead the innovative efforts, scientific discoveries, and technology development that could change how we treat cancer tomorrow.”

During its past 28 years of operation, this program has supported the advanced training of more than 200 predoctoral and 100 postdoctoral trainees.

“This generous award will promote vital research productivity and allow synergistic scientific interactions between brilliant minds working in different organizations towards advancing our understanding of basic cell biological events that cause cancer,” said David Cheresh, PhD, associate director for Innovation and Industry Alliances at Moores Cancer Center, Distinguished Professor of Pathology, and co-chair of the training program. “Together we can identify drugs and innovative strategies for new cancer therapies.” Dr. Cheresh is a leading authority in the study of signaling networks that regulate angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels, which tumors need to propagate), tumor growth, drug resistance, and metastasis.

“The continuation of your training program in Biochemistry is extremely important to the lives of millions of people around the world who are affected by cancer,” said Congressman Scott Peters, representative for California’s 52nd District, in a letter to grant director Dr. Donoghue. “Through this program, I hope that you will increase our understanding of transcription factors and cell cycle progression in order to shed light on DNA checkpoints and cancer therapeutics. Your work is inspiring and I fully support you and all the accomplishments of the University of California, San Diego.”

Many thanks go out to the administrators and supporters of this program: Dr. Scott Lippman  (Director of Moores Cancer Center); Dr. Suresh Subramani (Executive Vice-Chancellor of UCSD), Dr. David Brenner (Vice-Chancellor  of UCSD Health Sciences), Web Cavenee (Director of the Ludwig Institute of Cancer Research,  San Diego Branch), and our 32 Participating Faculty Mentors.

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