Molecular biologist Christine Mayr, MD, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s (MSK) Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI) is one of 12 2016 recipients of the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Pioneer Award. Established in 2004, the annual award recognizes and supports individual scientists of exceptional creativity who propose pioneering and highly innovative approaches with the potential to produce an unusually high impact on biomedical or behavioral research. Dr. Mayr was selected as a Director’s Pioneer Award winner for her groundbreaking work on the influence of the noncoding parts of transcription units (3’UTRs) on protein function and protein localization.
3’UTRs are noncoding parts of gene transcripts that are known to bind to microRNAs and RNA-binding proteins. So far, it has been thought that the major role of 3’UTRs is the regulation of protein abundance. However, Dr. Mayr’s research discovered that 3’UTRs can also mediate protein-protein interactions of newly made proteins. As more than half of human genes generate transcripts with alternative 3’UTRs, her discovery has major implications for the regulation of protein functions. For example, her lab has shown that CD47, a protein that was thought to play an important role in cancer cell survival, also regulates cell death. The function that is carried out by CD47 in each cell depends on the expression of the alternative CD47 3’UTRs. Dr. Mayr’s research will help to better understand the functions of proteins; advances in this research may potentially offer new ways to treat cancer.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be a recipient of the 2016 Director’s Pioneer Award,” she says. “Winning this award is fantastic because it provides the resources to pursue riskier projects. If these projects succeed, they will have a very high impact for biology and can possibly change the way we treat certain cancers.”
“I am delighted that Dr. Mayr is a 2016 Director’s Pioneer Award winner,” said SKI Director Joan Massagué. “She is an exemplary scientist and I am confident that she will further her groundbreaking contributions in this very new area of research.”
Dr. Mayr is an Associate Member of SKI at MSK. She received her medical degree from Free University in Berlin and her PhD in immunology from Humboldt University, also in Berlin. During her time as a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of David Bartel at the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she became interested in 3’UTR-mediated gene regulation. In her lab at SKI, her research focuses on the role and regulation of alternative 3’UTRs. Her lab recently discovered that 3’UTRs can mediate protein-protein interactions of newly translated proteins. As a consequence, alternative 3’UTRs enable the formation of alternative protein complexes, which can result in multifunctionality of a protein despite its identical amino acid sequence.