Nidhi Sahni receives TAMEST Mary Beth Maddox Award for research in molecular pathways of cancer progression

Nidhi Sahni, Ph.D., associate professor of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, has been awarded the 2024 Mary Beth Maddox Award and Lectureship in cancer research from the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST).

Sahni is being honored for her role in identifying novel biomarkers and drug targets that may be translated into improved prognostic and therapeutic strategies for patients with cancer.

The Mary Beth Maddox Award and Lectureship recognizes women scientists in Texas who bring new ideas and innovations to the fight against cancer. The award was established in 2022 in honor of Mary Beth Maddox, former executive director of TAMEST, who passed away in 2018 after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer.

“Receiving the Mary Beth Maddox Award truly is an honor for me and for our team, as it recognizes our collective work to address fundamental issues in precision medicine,” Sahni said. “Our research aims to unravel the genetic and epigenetic pathways involved in cancer progression and will hopefully lead to meaningful discoveries that will improve patient prognosis, treatment and overall outcomes.”

Sahni pioneered “functional variomics,” a new field that aims to identify mechanisms by which DNA sequence variations affect diseases. Her work focuses on systems biology of human cancer, integrating experimental platforms, signaling network analysis, genome editing, proteomics and next-generation sequencing to provide insights into cancer progression. Her lab has developed robust bioinformatics and computational algorithms that have helped to identify novel therapeutic targets, including a better understanding of signal transduction networks within cells and how they affect a cell’s biological characteristics. These insights can be used to cultivate personalized prognostic and treatment strategies for patients with multiple types of cancer.

“Dr. Sahni is an extraordinary researcher with exceptional computational skills and a passion for scientific discoveries that can help patients,” said Giulio Draetta, M.D., Ph.D., chief scientific officer. “Her unwavering commitment to uncovering the underlying secrets of cancer progression on a molecular level is crucial to achieving MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer, and we congratulate her for this award and for her continued achievements in the field.”

Sahni received her Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Iowa and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, where she developed a keen interest in cancer systems biology and precision medicine. She also has a strong background in bioinformatics and genetics, which has allowed her to integrate multiple disciplines in her studies.

Her most recent focus is a systems biology approach to developing combination therapies for ovarian cancer. One of the most popular approaches for treating ovarian cancer is PARP inhibitor targeted therapy, which exploits a weakness of cancer cells and leads to the accumulation of DNA damage. However, many patients eventually develop PARP inhibitor resistant disease, highlighting a need to understand the underlying molecular pathways involved. Sahni’s research identified biomarkers that are key mediators of DNA repair, which has implications for screening, patient risk stratification and combination treatments for patients with a high risk of recurrence.

Sahni’s interdisciplinary work also is a testament to the collaborative environment at MD Anderson, which allows researchers to rapidly and seamlessly advance discoveries between scientists and clinicians from the lab to the clinic and back at an unmatched pace.

“It was a pleasure to have nominated Dr. Sahni for this prestigious award, and I am thrilled to see her receive this well-deserved honor,” said Anil Sood, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. “She is a remarkable interdisciplinary leader who has made tremendous strides in advancing global understanding of the genotype-phenotype relationships in cancer. Her work on identifying biomarkers and drug targets will undoubtedly lead to improving outcomes for patients.”

Sahni will be officially honored at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference, where she will present her research to attendees and will receive a $5,000 honorarium. The conference will be held Feb. 5–7, 2024, at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center in Austin, Texas.