The 2011 winners are Scott A. Armstrong of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston, whose achievements in cancer genomics and stem cell research are leading to potential new leukemia therapies; Kornelia Polyak of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, whose pioneering genomics discoveries may improve diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to breast cancer; and Victor E. Velculescu of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, whose creation of novel technologies to detect genomic alterations in cancer is leading to new opportunities for personalized cancer care.
Scott A. Armstrong
Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD, is the Director of Translational Research in Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disease at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston, and co-Director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Cancer Program. Dr. Armstrong has helped define new directions in the field of leukemia genetics, with significant success in harnessing genome-wide technologies to characterize the molecular pathways responsible for leukemia development. His work is leading to potential new therapeutic approaches to these cancers. Early in his career Dr. Armstrong helped identify a unique expression signature in leukemias that have a specific broken chromosome in the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) gene - a common trait of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). The receptor tyrosine kinase FLT3 is now a potential therapeutic target for ALL. Dr. Armstrong’s team was also the first to isolate rare leukemia stem cells in a mouse model, a finding that led to a successful search for other pathways specifically required in leukemia stem cells -but not normal stem cells. His lab’s ongoing efforts to identify other epigenetic pathways required for maintaining the stem-cell-like features of cancer holds promise for generating additional therapeutic targets. Dr. Armstrong received his MD and PhD degrees from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. (Note: In June 2012, Dr. Armstrong joined Memorial Sloan Kettering as a member of the Department of Pediatrics and the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program.)
Kornelia Polyak, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is a leader in the molecular analysis of human breast cancer and the translation of those findings into clinical practice - from new screening tests to the development of potential treatments. She has made significant contributions to characterizing all the cell types that compose a tumor, identifying the genetic differences between normal and cancerous breast tissue, and defining the role of stem cells in breast cancer development. Dr. Polyak was at the forefront of optimizing cutting-edge gene-analysis technologies to analyze samples of ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS) tissue containing even the smallest number of breast tumor cells. Her team’s discovery that gene expression from a breast tumor is altered by epigenetic changes absent in normal breast tissues led to the finding that altered gene function in the tumor’s microenvironment can induce proliferation and increase aggression in breast cancer cells. The cause of invasive DCIS, she reported, lies not in the tumor cells themselves-but in abnormalities in the tumor’s microenvironment. Dr. Polyak received her MD degree from Albert Szent-Györgyi Medical University and her PhD from Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences.
Victor E. Velculescu
Victor Velculescu, MD, PhD, is a professor of oncology and co-Director of the Cancer Biology Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Velculescu is internationally known for developing a series of novel genomic technologies and applying these cutting-edge tools to making discoveries that aid in the basic understanding and clinical care of cancer - including the personalized management of patients. Early in his career, he developed the serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) method to simultaneously study thousands of genes and quickly identify the expression differences between normal cells and cancer cells. Critical advances stemming from this approach include the first systematic analyses of gene expression for several cancers and the identification of a novel set of genes, uniquely expressed in cancer, which can serve as therapy targets. Dr. Velculescu subsequently developed methods to analyze the cancer genome, including high-throughput sequencing approaches and a variation on SAGE called Digital Karyotyping. His lab has characterized alterations in one of the most frequently mutated genes ever identified in cancer (the PIK3CA gene). Notably, his creation of a next-generation sequencing method technology that can identify genetic alterations specific to an individual’s cancer DNA has the potential to now become a valuable tool in personalized cancer care. Dr. Velculescu obtained his MD and PhD degrees from Johns Hopkins University.