Heather Christofk, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Institute for Molecular Medicine at UCLA, has received a 2010 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation to study how glucose metabolism is altered in cancer, which leads to tumor growth.
The prestigious award includes a $450,000 grant over three years and is given to early-career scientists whose novel projects have the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Scientists have known since the 1920s that one distinguishing characteristic of cancer cells is their altered glucose metabolism: compared to normal cells, cancer cells have a "sweet tooth" and use much more glucose from the environment. This discovery has yet to be exploited for therapeutic benefit.
Christofk's goal is to identify the proteins within cancer cells that are responsible for their altered glucose metabolism. She aims to grow tumors in mice, and then turn off the metabolic 'switches,' monitoring the result using positron emission tomography, an advanced imaging technology. Her research will determine whether targeting tumor metabolism is a feasible approach for cancer therapy and may identify novel cancer drug targets.
"The field of cancer metabolism has re-emerged with a great deal of promise in the last few years, yet there are several fundamental questions still to be answered. This award will dramatically accelerate my research and allow me to answer some of these critical questions on a much shorter timetable," said Christofk, assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology and a researcher with the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center. "Thank you to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and the Rachleffs for their generous support - this award is one of the greatest honors a young scientist could hope for!"
A UCLA alum, Christofk completed her Ph.D. at Harvard University. Prior to joining the UCLA faculty, she conducted her postdoctoral research at the UCSF Cancer Research Institute.
The Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Awardees are selected through a highly competitive and rigorous process by a scientific committee comprised of leading cancer researchers who are innovators themselves. Only those scientists with a strong vision and passion for curing cancer are selected to receive the award. The program is made possible through the generous support of Andy and Debbie Rachleff and the Island Outreach Foundation.
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists and providing them with funding to pursue innovative research that will eliminate cancer as a deadly disease. Eleven scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, and others are heads of cancer centers and leaders of renowned research programs. Since its founding in 1946, the Foundation has invested over $220 million and funded more than 3,200 scientists.