Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Sylvester Hosts Landon-AACR Prize Lectures; Two New Awards Given

01.23.2009

The annual Landon-American Association for Cancer Research Prizes took a big step forward this year in recognizing key cancer research by adding two new awards. The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine hosted the Seventh Annual Landon-AACR Prize Lectures on Friday, January 23, during which four scientists were recognized for their research.

The Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for Basic Cancer Research and the Dorothy P. Landon-AACR Prize for Translational Cancer Research are considered premier recognition in cancer research. This year, the Landon Foundation-AACR wanted to acknowledge other fronts in the battle against cancer, and presented the Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration in Cancer Research and the Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research.

W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., director of Sylvester who welcomed the crowd, described the prestigious prizes as a “goal to motivate and reward great scientific achievement.” Kirk and Dorothy Landon, who established the awards with the AACR, wanted the prize lectures given at Sylvester to showcase and influence significant research at the cancer center. Goodwin said the awards are evidence that the Landons’ “footprints are all over Sylvester.”

Arnold J. Levine, Ph.D., professor at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School-UMDNJ, was awarded the 2008 Kirk A. Landon-AACR Prize for Basic Cancer Research. Levine is largely responsible for establishing p53 as a tumor suppressor, and unraveling the regulatory mechanisms that modulate its function. His work has progressed to show that p53 mutations not only affect the tumor suppressor activity, but may actually possess oncogenic activities.

Speaking about his work at the lectures, Levine predicted even more discoveries surrounding p53, saying he thinks it “will play a role in the central nervous system.” The scientist has received a multitude of awards and honors during his career and said he was “humbled to be among” the group of Landon winners.

The 2008 Dorothy P. Landon-AACR Prize for Translational Cancer Research was given to John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, for his work leading to the development of a new class of agents in cancer treatment. Mendelsohn, who called winning the Landon Award a “tremendous honor,” first suggested nearly thirty years ago that inhibiting critical growth promoting signals of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) would stop cancer cell proliferation.

Over the years, he and his team developed the monoclonal antibody now known as Erbitux™. Used in combination with chemotherapy or radiation, it has been shown to be an effective therapy in colon and other cancers. Mendelsohn told the audience of present and future scientists that he believes combination therapy is the wave of the future, but admits they’ve “got a lot to learn.”

Carlo Maley, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, is the first recipient of the Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research. This new award is meant to encourage young investigators exploring cancer prevention as the first line of defense against the disease. Maley explained to the gathering that his research focuses on the process by which normal tissue becomes cancerous. Studying models of Barrett’s esophagus, a human pre-malignant neoplasm that can lead to esophageal cancer, Maley is working to develop a method of identifying which tumor cells will likely progress to cancer. The goal, he says, is then to discover which tumor will be sensitive to preventive therapies. He points out that “if we can slow down cancer’s progression, in some cases we can eradicate it.”

The first Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration went to Michele Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Hawaii. Carbone and his team of international researchers discovered a rare mesothelioma epidemic in three remote villages in Turkey. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer where malignant cells form in the mesothelium, the protective lining that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Carbone, who is the director of the Thoracic Oncology Program at the Cancer Research Center at the University of Hawaii, discovered that exposure to the mineral erionite, found in the rock used to build homes, was the cause. The primary question then became investigating why everyone did not become sick. Through years of research, Carbone and his team determined that the victims had a genetic predisposition to mesothelioma. Findings from his research are now being applied to other geographic areas in the hopes of identifying an effective treatment.

The Landon-AACR Prizes are the largest prizes offered to cancer researchers from a society of their peers. Each recipient receives a cash award of $100,000.

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