Renowned cell biologist and biochemist Lewis Cantley keynotes Massey’s annual Cancer Research Retreat
It was the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend, but that didn’t stop more than 140 attendees from participating in VCU Massey Cancer Center’s annual Cancer Research Retreat. Similar to past retreats, the morning featured lectures from Massey research members as well as a keynote address by cell biologist and biochemist Lewis Cantley, Ph.D., Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor in Oncology Research and director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College. In the afternoon, more than 60 student researchers and postdoctoral fellows displayed abstracts in the poster session and competed for up to $250 in Excellence in Cancer Research Awards.
Anthony Faber, Ph.D., a member of Massey’s Developmental Therapeutics research program and assistant professor in the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research at the VCU School of Dentistry, started the day’s presentations by discussing a potential new target for the development of novel glioblastoma therapies. Following Faber, Senthil Radhakrishnan, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Molecular Genetics research program at Massey and assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at the VCU School of Medicine, presented on the potential of inhibiting a key protein in the proteasome recovery pathway known as Nrf1 for the treatment of various cancers. Next, Yue Sun, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Cell Signaling research program at Massey and assistant professor in the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research at the VCU School of Dentistry, discussed a novel mechanism that controls autophagy, a process that helps cancer cells resist therapy. The next presentation was by Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey and assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at the VCU School of Medicine, who gave an overview of ongoing research informing regulatory policies on electronic cigarette marketing. There was standing room only as Cantley delivered the Pendleton Memorial Lecture on the enzyme PI3-Kinase, discovered in his laboratory, that plays a critical role in cancers. Cantley is a leader in the field of signal transduction and cellular metabolism. Research from his laboratory has revealed that activation of PI3K plays a significant role in growth factor signaling, and contributes to the altered metabolism seen in cancer cells. As a result, pharmaceutical intervention targeting the PI3K pathway is being explored in cancer and a variety of other diseases.
After lunch, the poster session kicked off with a panel of Massey judges reviewing each of the 64 abstracts displayed by student researchers and postdoctoral fellows. The students and fellows competed for Excellence in Cancer Research Awards totaling $250 for first place, $200 for second place and $150 for third place. First place was awarded to Justin Sperlazza for his research into a protein that could be targeted to enhance the effectiveness of acute myeloid leukemia therapies. Second place was awarded to Michael Waters, who presented on research uncovering a cell signaling pathway that supports glioblastoma multiforme progression. Third place was a tie awarded to both Maaged Akiel and Amrita Sule. Akiel’s research focused on potential mechanisms by which insulin-like growth factor binding protein-7 (IGFBP7) suppresses liver cancer. Sule’s research helped shed light on the relationship of protein complexes AKT and pp2a, whose interactions are critical to helping cancer cells withstand the effects of radiation therapy and cancer drugs.