Andrew Sabin Family Fellows to receive $100,000 in research funding

Awardees meet benefactor, share passion for MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center named eight innovative researchers to the second annual class of Andrew Sabin Family Fellows at a luncheon today attended by Andrew Sabin, of East Hampton, New York, and representatives of the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation. The Andrew Sabin Family Fellowship Program provides $100,000 in funding per fellow over two years through a $30 million endowed gift to encourage research creativity, independent thinking and high-impact cancer research.

“It’s been exciting to observe the inaugural eight fellows as their research has progressed during the first year of the Andrew Sabin Family Fellowship Program, and we’re equally impressed with the 2017 class,” said Sabin, who has served on the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors since 2005. “The program now nurtures 16 brilliant minds focused on finding an end to this terrible disease. My family looks forward to seeing their impact grow exponentially over the coming year. We’re proud to know our gift already is making a difference for people suffering from cancer.”

The awardees and their areas of focus are: 

  • Margarida Albuquerque Almeida Santos, Ph.D., assistant professor, Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis: the role of DNA repair factors, or genome guardians, in promoting tumors
  • Swathi Arur, Ph.D., associate professor, Genetics: interplay of RAS signaling and small RNA biogenesis enzymes in promoting tumor progression and metastasis
  • Boyi Gan, Ph.D., assistant professor, Experimental Radiation Oncology: the role of energy sensing and metabolism in cancer
  • Clifton Fuller, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Radiation Oncology: developing and implementing “Big Data” approaches to imaging methodologies to treat head and neck cancers more effectively
  • Chad Huff, Ph.D., assistant professor, Epidemiology: understanding human evolution and the genetic basis of disease through statistical, computational and population genomics
  • Eugene Koay, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Radiation Oncology: developing and validating a method using CT scans to measure response in pancreatic cancer patients
  • Andrew Rhim, M.D., assistant professor, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition: how precancerous pancreatic lesions transform into cancer and how tumors become resistant to therapy through mutations
  • Jennifer Wargo, M.D., MMSc, associate professor, Surgical Oncology and Genomic Medicine: delineating the role of the gut microbiome in modulating responses to cancer immunotherapy

The Andrew Sabin Family Fellowship program awards up to eight cancer research fellowships annually to support research that pushes the envelope in four categories: basic science, clinical, physician-scientist and population and quantitative science. The generous funding over two years frees young researchers to pursue potentially practice-changing science rather than spend the bulk of their time writing grants.

“Through a legacy gift of $30 million, the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation is nurturing the intellectual curiosity of outstanding young researchers, accelerating progress in the fight against cancer and helping advance nontraditional research with lifesaving potential,” said Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., executive vice president and provost. “Thanks to Andy Sabin and his family, these scientists are truly Making Cancer History.”

The inaugural Andrew Sabin Family Fellows, announced in April 2016, say the funds have enabled them to: 

  • “Look more closely at the dark region of human genomes, to identify genetic variants that cannot be identified by current technologies but are particularly important to tumor development.” ― Ken Chen, Ph.D., Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • “Conduct a project that examines the use of high flow oxygen and air to relieve shortness of breath, or air hunger, in cancer patients, a common symptom for which few treatment options are available.” ― David Hui, M.D., Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine and General Oncology
  • “Pursue an exciting new project that will involve applying single-cell DNA sequencing technologies to breast cancer patients to understand how individual tumor cells evolve resistance to chemotherapy.” ― Nicholas Navin, Ph.D., Genetics and Bioinformatics
  • “Further my study of DNA replication fork protection at in-depth molecular and biological levels to learn more about its potential as a cancer suppression mechanism across many different cancers.” ― Katharina Schlacher, Ph.D., Cancer Biology
  • “Extend my work on the role of co-occurring genetic events in KRAS-mutant lung adenocarcinoma, a prevalent and difficult-to-treat molecular subtype of non-small cell lung cancer.” ― Ferdinandos Skoulidis, M.D., Ph.D., Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology
  • “Develop a project to promote personalized decision-making between mastectomy and breast reconstruction or lumpectomy followed by whole-breast irradiation for women with early breast cancer.” ― Benjamin Smith, M.D., Radiation Oncology and Health Services Research
  • “Pursue an exciting project that seeks to reduce toxicity from chemotherapy and radiation treatments to improve outcomes in our cancer patients.” ― Cullen Taniguchi, M.D., Ph.D., Radiation Oncology
  • “Evaluate which patients may benefit most from therapies targeting p53, the most common molecular aberration in ovarian cancer and a number of other advanced solid tumors.” ― Shannon Westin, M.D., Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine

Sabin is president of Sabin Metal Corporation, the largest privately owned precious metals refiner and recycler in the country. An avid environmentalist, conservationist and wildlife enthusiast, he devotes much of his time and energy to advocating on a national level for increased cancer research funding.