Sloan Kettering Institute’s Direna Alonso-Curbelo Named 2021 Blavatnik Regional Award for Young Scientists Winner

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Direna Alonso-Curbelo, PhD

Direna Alonso-Curbelo, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s (MSK) Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI), has been named a winner of the 2021 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists in the “Life Sciences” category. Honoring outstanding postdoctoral scientists from academic research institutions across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences announced the winners of the 2021 Blavatnik Regional Awards for Young Scientists on September 21, 2021.

The Blavatnik Regional Awards recognize researchers in three scientific categories: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering, and Chemistry. A distinguished jury of leading scientists and engineers from across the New York region selected one winner in each category. Each winner receives $30,000. In the 2021 competition, there were 152 outstanding nominations from 24 academic institutions in the New York metropolitan region.

“I am honored to receive this prestigious recognition from the Blavatnik Family Foundation”, said Dr. Alonso-Curbelo. “I hope this award inspires other postdocs and students to persevere in our progress to change the paradigm of cancer treatment.”

Dr. Alonso-Curbelo is a cancer biologist and is a member of The Scott Lowe Lab at SKI. She investigates the similarities and differences between wound healing and tumor development to better understand the initiating events of cancer. By comparing the responses to tissue damage of normal cells and those harboring a cancer-initiating mutation, Dr. Alonso-Curbelo discovered a mechanism that explains how the most common gene mutation that causes pancreatic cancer co-opts otherwise reparative inflammatory processes to fuel tumor initiation. Given that many cancers arise from sites exposed to injury and inflammation, this discovery uncovers fundamental knowledge on the complex interactions between environmental and genetic risk factors that contribute to disease and paves the way for the earlier detection and treatment of cancer.

“On behalf of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, I congratulate this year’s postdoctoral Winners and Finalists,” said Len Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries, head of the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and member of the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences. “These young scientists are working at the forefront of science and technology in the New York area, one of the most dynamic and innovative scientific regions in the world. We proudly salute their academic excellence and await their many future scientific achievements.”

The Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists were first awarded in 2014. In 2017, the awards were expanded to honor faculty-rank scientists in the United Kingdom and in Israel. By the close of 2021, the Blavatnik Awards will have awarded prizes totaling $11.9 million. About 60% of all recipients are immigrants to the country in which they were recognized and hail from 47 countries across six continents, reflecting the Blavatnik Family Foundation’s recognition that important science is a global enterprise.