MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researcher received Young Investigator Award for studying the role of CDK6 protein in T cells for melanoma therapy
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researcher, Haizhen (Jen) Wang, Ph.D., recently received a three-year young research fellowship of $ 225,000 from the Melanoma Research Alliance.
MRA research awards support innovative ideas that promise rapid improvement in outcomes for patients with melanoma. Each award was selected through a rigorous peer review process during the MRA’s approval process and confirmed by the MRA Board of Directors. The Alliance, the largest nonprofit funder of melanoma research, announced $ 8.1 million for 34 new awards supporting research at 27 institutions in seven countries.
MRA Chief Science Officer Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., said in the company’s press release that MRA grant awards support scientists pushing the boundaries to solve some of the biggest unanswered questions in melanoma. “This includes researchers working to modulate the microbiome to improve patient outcomes and others exploring strategies to understand and overcome resistance to therapy,” he said.
Wang said she was grateful for the financial support. “This will help my study of the mechanisms of tumor progression to get a picture of how to activate anti-cancer T cells in melanoma patients,” she said. Tumor microenvironment cells play an important role in cancer progression, and T cells have become a central focus for engaging the immune system in fighting cancer, including melanoma, she explained.
“If we can find a way to activate T cells, it will lead to new and promising strategies in this battle, such as cellular immunotherapy and checkpoint blockade. My research is focused on identifying the mechanism by which T cells are activated and testing the effectiveness of this new therapeutic strategy in melanoma preclinically, ”said Wang.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. While more than two people die from skin cancer every hour in the US, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99% when caught in the initial stages. American Cancer Society data shows that over the past decade (2011-2021), the number of invasive melanoma cases newly diagnosed annually has increased by 44%.
The Hollings Cancer Center takes a multi-pronged approach to treating skin cancer, including promoting routine skin cancer screenings and facilitating collaboration between clinicians and basic researchers. Wang believes the strong clinical research environment is one of Hollings’ greatest strengths, she said.
Wang, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, is addressing the challenge of immunotherapy resistance in melanoma. She was appointed to MUSC in 2018 after completing her postdoctoral work at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School.
“I was excited about cancer research when I was doing my PhD. Student. I often think, ‘What if I discover something that makes a difference?’ My goal is to deepen our understanding of how the immune system works in cancer so that we can help more patients, ”she said.
Melanoma has been one of Wang’s main areas of research since her postdoc training. Her previous research published in Nature found that cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK6) is an important survival protein that can be used as cancer therapy. She is now investigating the function of CDK6 in T cells that migrate into the tumor microenvironment.
“The evidence that this is a suitable way to combat it is pretty strong. It’s just a gradual process. The Melanoma Research Alliance funding will help me recruit qualified staff and collect more data from clinical specimens. ”By combining data from animal models and coordinating with clinicians in studying T cells in human melanoma, advances will be made in Directed towards combination therapies that are more effective for patients, she said.
Founded in Charleston in 1824, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South and the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center with a unique mission to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dentistry, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy. MUSC is the leader in biomedical research fundraising in fiscal year 2019, hitting a new high of more than $ 284 million. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
As the Medical University of South Carolina’s clinical health system, MUSC Health is committed to delivering the best possible patient care while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. With approximately 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach locations, the MUSC College of Medicine, Medical Practice Plan, and nearly 275 telemedicine locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster, and Marion counties. In 2020, US News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 Hospital in South Carolina for the sixth consecutive year. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.
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About the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-named cancer center and the largest academically-based cancer research program in South Carolina. The cancer center includes more than 100 faculty cancer researchers and 20 academic departments. It has an annual research funding portfolio of more than $ 44 million and is dedicated to reducing the cancer burden in South Carolina. Hollings offers state-of-the-art diagnostics, therapies and surgical techniques in multidisciplinary clinics with surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation therapists, radiologists, pathologists, psychologists and other specialists equipped for the full spectrum of cancer treatment, including more than 200 clinical trials. For more information, see hollingscancercenter.musc.edu.