Cancer, meet your match: Andrew Sabin Family Fellows announced

$30 million gift establishes program to advance MD Anderson’s goal to end cancer

Eight of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s top young researchers today were formally named Andrew Sabin Family Fellows at an event honoring their benefactor, Andrew Sabin, and representatives of the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation.

In late 2015, Sabin, of East Hampton, N.Y., and his family foundation committed $30 million to establish an endowment funding the Andrew Sabin Family Fellowship Program. Designed to encourage creative, independent thinking and high-risk, high-impact research, the program supports the novel work of world-class cancer researchers in four categories: basic science, clinical, physician-scientist and population and quantitative science. Eight cancer research fellowships providing $100,000 over two years are to be awarded annually.

The inaugural recipients, selected among 65 applicants through a rigorous peer-review process, are: 

  • Ken Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology: Chen is involved in analyzing The Cancer Genome Atlas and the 1000 Genomes project data and has helped develop novel methods for precise characterization of heterogeneous cancer genomes and precision oncology.

  • David Hui, M.D., assistant professor, Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine and General Oncology: Hui focuses on cancer-related dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing) and is involved in clinical trials examining interventions such as rapid onset opioids, corticosteroids and oxygen delivery modalities.

  • Nicholas Navin, Ph.D., assistant professor, Genetics and Bioinformatics: Navin aims to use single cell sequencing technologies to investigate tumor evolution in breast cancer patients and understand how they evolve resistance to chemotherapy. These studies are expected to lead to new diagnostic modalities and therapeutic targets to improve treatment and outcomes.

  • Katharina Schlacher, Ph.D., assistant professor, Cancer Biology: Schlacher studies DNA replication fork protection at in-depth molecular and biological levels to provide biological insights and the framework to develop disease understanding, enabling prevention and treatment strategies.

  • Ferdinandos Skoulidis, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology: Skoulidis’ research is building on his discovery of co-mutation-defined subsets of KRAS-mutant lung cancer, with a focus on identifying predictive biomarkers of response or resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors.

  • Benjamin Smith, M.D., associate professor, Radiation Oncology and Health Services Research: Smith’s research includes population-based survey studies of a statewide cohort of older breast cancer survivors and population-based research using registry and claims data.

  • Cullen Taniguchi, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Radiation Oncology: Taniguchi studies hypoxia (low oxygen levels) to find therapies that protect normal tissue from chemotherapy and radiation damage without compromising tumor kill. These pathways could be exploited to prevent tumors from growing and spreading.

  • Shannon Westin, M.D., assistant professor, Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine: Westin’s research focuses on the use of novel agents to treat gynecologic malignancies and the use of biomarkers to predict response and resistance to these therapies. She is the director of Phase I trials in the Gynecologic Center.

“I wanted to provide a vehicle so that highly qualified researchers at the world’s premier cancer center can focus on important work that can truly help people who suffer from cancer,” said Sabin. “This fellowship program will be at MD Anderson in perpetuity. I hope one of the fellows comes up with a cure. It would make me very proud to know that this gift made a difference.”

Sabin has served on the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors since 2005 and is president of Sabin Metal Corporation, the largest privately owned precious metals refiner and recycler in the country. He devotes much of his time and energy to advocating on a national level for increased cancer research funding. He is widely known as an avid environmentalist, conservationist and wildlife enthusiast.  

“The exceptional generosity of Andy Sabin and his family will decisively advance MD Anderson’s commitment to Making Cancer History,” said Ronald DePinho, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “As the program continues for generations to come, the Sabin family’s generosity will touch the lives of many, and the potential for enhanced contributions toward MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer will grow exponentially. This gift and the research it funds will help give hope to cancer patients and their loved ones around the world.”