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April 26, 2016

Weill Cornell Professors Win Cancer Research Grants

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Two Weill Cornell Medicine professors — Dr. Dan Landau and Dr. Juan R. Cubillos-Ruiz — have been awarded approximately $1.5 million total of the prestigious Stand Up to Cancer Innovative Research Grants provided by the American Association of Cancer Research.

The grants were given to “support early-career scientists with novel ideas that … are high-risk but could also be high-impact,” according to the SU2C website.

Cubillos-Ruiz, who was awarded $746,145, explained that his fight against ovarian cancer has a personal component.

“I lost my grandma to cancer in 2012 and it was incredibly frustrating for me to realize that there was nothing that ‘modern’ medicine could do to stop the disease,” Cubillos-Ruiz said. “The same thing is happening right now to thousands of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Most of these patients will initially respond to standard treatments, but they will subsequently relapse with more aggressive disease for which there is no cure.”

Cubillos-Ruiz said his research focuses on “devising new therapeutic strategies to empower, to re-arm, our immune cells against ovarian cancer.” He studies lipid released by ovarian cancer cells in order to understand how to help the immune system fight ovarian cancer, according to the University.

Landau, who was awarded $750,000, said he has been studying cancer genomics and tumor evolution for the past five years ever since he joined the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

He added that his work focuses on “devis[ing] therapies that directly anticipate and address tumor evolution” for a personalized approach toward fighting cancer rather than a generalized treatment that more often than not worsens conditions from treatment.

“Our work has shown that tumor evolution with therapy is the rule rather than the exception,” Landau said. “This prompted the need to devise strategies to … start actively engineering the course of evolution with therapy. I am excited about the ability to integrate advanced sequencing methods with data-science approaches to use dynamic monitoring for cancer evolution prediction and design.”

Both Cubillos-Ruiz and Landau stressed the value of the SU2C grants to their research.

“SU2C is essential for our lab to develop [our] new idea in cancer immunology and immunotherapy,” Cubillos-Ruiz said. “It will provide the fuel we need to comprehensively test our hypothesis and establish a new paradigm.”

Landau added that this type of funding enables high-risk high reward research, saying it “allows for bold ideas to be pursued unlike more conservative mechanisms.”

“This funding allows us to develop a vision that may have transformative impact on cancer cure in the long run rather than focus on near term, low risk science,” he said.

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