A creative plan to identify new drugs to prevent cancer has earned an MD Anderson scientist a prominent national award to support her research.
Guang Peng, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, is the winner of the Fifth Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research.
The American Association for Cancer Research will honor Peng and the Landon award winners for personalized cancer medicine and international collaboration at a reception and dinner tonight during the AACR's annual meeting in Chicago.
"Guang Peng is a superstar, a force to reckon with in cancer prevention," says Powel Brown, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention. "Her enthusiasm is boundless and infectious. Most importantly, she's an outstanding basic scientist who is devoted to cancer prevention.
"She brings a fresh approach and new creativity to the field," Brown said. "It's a delight to work with her."
Goal: "Selectively kill premalignant cells"
Peng, who did her post-doctoral fellowship in MD Anderson's Department of Systems Biology, proposes to take advantage of replication stress that occurs in rapidly dividing pre-cancerous cells, causing double-strand breaks in the cells' DNA.
These breaks are repaired by a process called homologous recombination.
"Our research goal is to identify novel inhibitors of the homologous recombination repair pathway that selectively kill premalignant cells by targeting cellular survival responses to replication stress," Peng explains.
"Replication stress is a common feature of premalignant cells across multiple cancer types," Peng says. "For example, almost all pancreatic cancers (95%) contain a K-Ras mutation, which is a major cause of replication stress. We expect the agents identified from our study might provide new strategies to prevent many cancers, particularly pancreatic cancer."
Peng will use an innovative, imaging-based, high-throughput homologous recombination repair assay to screen chemical libraries containing FDA-approved drugs and natural products. She will then use both an in vitro cell culture system and an in vivo xenograft animal model to test the chemopreventive effects of the newly identified chemical inhibitors.
"We're working with breast cells but this research will involve fundamental knowledge that we expect to be broadly applicable," she said. "'I'm grateful for the Landon Foundation/AACR grant's support for this work."
"Idea is novel, the technology is cutting-edge"
Her postdoctoral mentor in Systems Biology, Shiaw-Yih "Phoebus" Lin, Ph.D., is pleased but not surprised by Peng's award because, he says, she has "innovation in her blood."
"Guang is a superb young scientist who possesses an astounding intellect, great experimental prowess, and utmost motivation," Lin says. "She always focuses on the big questions in the field and is only interested in groundbreaking research.
"Her idea is novel and the technology is cutting-edge," he says "This is a perfect project for a rising star like her."
The award is for $100,000 over two years.
The Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Awards, established in 2008, are designed to foster innovation and collaboration in cancer research and support independent investigators early in their careers. The awards provide recipients with the recognition they need to further their careers and possibly leverage additional funding.
The AACR and the Landon Foundation shifted from presenting two annual scientific achievement awards to presenting research grant funding in 2009. This was an effort to refocus attention on younger researchers and recognize the critical need to identify and support the next generation of top cancer researchers to facilitate breakthroughs in treatment and prevention.
Nature Cell Biology news release and paper
AACR Landon/AACR Grant news release