$450,000 Raised for Cancer Research to Fund Five Damon Runyon Scientists

As a result of our 2019 fundraising efforts from the William Raveis Ride + Walk across five states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Florida), we have raised $450,000 with 100% going to these five Damon Runyon Scientists. Please read about the 2020 William Raveis Charitable Fund Fellowships and about their brilliant and groundbreaking cancer research.

2020 William Raveis Charitable Fund Scientists

Vinod Balachandran, MD, Clinical Investigator, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Pancreatic cancer

Despite our best current treatments, 95% of patients with pancreatic cancer, including those at the earliest stages, die within 5 years of diagnosis. By 2020, pancreatic cancer will become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. New therapies are urgently needed. T cells are highly specialized cells of the immune system designed to protect the human body from infections and cancer. Very few T cells recognize pancreatic cancer; however, recent work showed that these T cells play a very important role in controlling the spread of pancreatic cancer. Patients whose tumors have higher proportions of T cells survived over 3-times longer than patients who did not. Dr. Balachandran’s group has unique access to these extremely rare patients that survived, on average, 6 years with pancreatic cancer and whose tumors have 12-times as many activated T cells as patients who have more typical poor outcomes. He has discovered that their exceptional survival is linked to T cells recognizing novel cancer proteins that make these cancers resemble infections. His research will focus on understanding these unique cancer proteins in long-term survivors, with the goal of developing novel immunotherapies to treat all patients with pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Balachandran earned his undergraduate degree in physics from Cornell University, and his MD from SUNY Stony Brook. When he is not in the lab, he enjoys classical violin and percussion, endurance running and triathlons.  He speaks Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi.

Adrienne Boire, MD, PhD Clinical Investigator, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Neuro-oncology

Leptomeningeal metastasis, or spread of cancer cells into the spinal fluid, is a devastating complication of cancer resulting in rapid neurologic disability and death. With little mechanistic information to guide treatment decisions, efforts at treatment are too often futile. To address this critical knowledge gap, Dr. Boire will employ a translational approach to analyze patient samples utilizing multiple, complementary, orthogonal molecular strategies as tools for discovery. This approach will be coupled with hypothesis-driven mouse models to assemble coherent molecular mechanisms that describe cancer cell interactions with their microenvironment. This mechanistic work will suggest new targets for therapeutic intervention, paving the way for novel treatment approaches.

Dr. Boire was raised in Minnesota where she attended Macalester College, earning an undergraduate degree in biology. She later earned a PhD in biochemistry from Tufts University and her MD from the University of Chicago. Dr. Boire’s patients inspire her to see the beauty in everyday life.  She and her family make time to visit the many museums near their home in New York.  She is particularly fascinated by still life: art that elevates the everyday into the extraordinary. For her, art demands that we stop, consider and appreciate the luminous and evanescent spectacle of everyday life unfolding around us.

Kunitoshi Chiba, PhD Fellow Brigham and Women’s Hospital: All Cancers, Immunotherapy

Dr. Chiba investigates how cancer cells evade a patient’s immune system. Though checkpoint blockade therapies have expanded the options for cancer patients, only a fraction of those treated actually benefit due to the emergence of immune resistance. Dr. Chiba will use molecular and genetic approaches to dissect the ways that cancer-associated mutations alter the tumor environment to avoid immune surveillance. The aim of this research is to improve the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy so many more patients will benefit.

Dr. Chiba is originally from Fujisawa, a beach town 34 miles southwest of Tokyo, Japan. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tokyo Institute of Technology in Bioengineering and Biochemistry. During his master’s program, he was awarded a fellowship from the Japanese government that enabled him to study at Columbia University for three months.  This experience inspired him to stay in the United States to pursue a PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of California Berkeley. Outside of the laboratory, he enjoys snowboarding and skiing, hiking, and camping at national parks.

 Lillian Guenther, MD Physician-Scientist Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Pediatric, Sarcoma

Ewing sarcoma is an aggressive bone tumor that occurs in children and young adults. Cure rates, particularly when disease has spread, are low with currently available treatments. Dr. Guenther aims to identify critical genes on which Ewing sarcoma cells are dependent for survival, with the goal of discovering weaknesses in these cancer cells that may be exploited to stop cancer growth. CITED2 is of particular interest as a Ewing sarcoma-specific dependency gene based on a genome-wide screen in hundreds of cancer cell lines. Her goal is to develop new directed cancer therapies for patients with this devastating disease. She hopes that these studies will have an additional impact on the treatment of other cancers where CITED2 has been shown to play a role, including acute myeloid leukemia.

Dr. Guenther completed her undergraduate studies at Brown University in 2005, where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. She then went on to receive her M.D. degree from the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine in 2011, where she received awards for distinguished performance in Pediatrics and Medical Humanities. Dr. Guenther completed her General Pediatrics Internship and Residency in the Boston Combined Residency Program in 2014 and completed her Fellowship in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital in 2017. When not in lab or in clinic, Dr. Guenther is an avid distance runner, enjoys crossword puzzles, reading, and listening to live music as well as playing the violin. She enjoys traveling around the world as well as spending time exploring New England with her family and friends.

Sigrid Nachtergaele, PhD Dale Frey Scientist Yale University: All Cancers, Chemical Biology

Dr. Nachtergaele is investigating the roles of RNA methylation, a process that chemically tags mRNA to alter gene expression and protein production. She has discovered a novel enzyme (m1A) that modifies RNA in this way and aims to uncover how malfunctions in this process can lead to cancer. Her investigations will expand the understanding of how mRNA modifications are regulated and result in altered cell signaling and growth in normal and cancer cells.  Building on this knowledge, her goal is to identify novel therapeutic targets for cancer.

Dr. Nachtergaele was born in Belgium and lived on several continents before her family settled in Davis, California.  She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry.  Dr. Nachtergaele played varsity soccer at the University of Chicago, earning a captain’s spot and Academic All-America honors in her senior year.  She went on to receive a PhD in Biochemistry at Stanford University.  She completed her Damon Runyon Fellowship in the lab of Chuan He, PhD, a Damon Runyon Alumnus, at the University of Chicago.  Dr. Nachtergaele is now at Yale University, where she is the recipient of the Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists, awarded to the most exceptional Damon Runyon Fellows to further catalyze their research and careers.

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