Two UNC scientists named Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation grantees

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 — William Kim, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, and C. Ryan Miller, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, were named 2009 Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Clinical Investigators.

Two UNC scientists named Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation grantees click to enlarge William Kim, MD, and C. Ryan Miller, MD, PhD

Of the four new awards made nationally, UNC received two of the grants. In addition, out of the four awardees, Kim was selected as the Damon Runyon-Merck Clinical Investigator and Miller was selected as the Damon Runyon-Genentech Clinical Investigator.

The recipients of this prestigious, three-year award are outstanding early career physician-scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research at major research centers under the mentorship of the nation's leading scientists and clinicians. Each will receive $450,000 to support the development of his cancer research program. The Clinical Investigator Award program is specifically intended to help address the shortage of physicians capable of translating scientific discovery into new breakthroughs for cancer patients.

“Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation grants are highly competitive and most prestigious, and we are most proud of our two young faculty members,” said William Roper, M.D., dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health Care. “That two of the four national awards were given to UNC speaks to the excellence of our young faculty and their great promise.”

Kim’s research concerns bladder cancer, the fourth most common cancer in men.  A specific protein called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is produced at high levels in lung, colon and bladder cancers, and there are now FDA-approved drugs that inhibit the function of this protein. Kim, along with Raj Pruthi, M.D., professor of surgery, has been studying the role of EGFR inhibition in patients with bladder cancer. But these drugs don’t always work for each patient. Kim’s overarching research goal is to be able to predict which patients with bladder cancer and possibly other tumors will respond to EGFR inhibition.  The ability to define this population would allow the treatment of patients most likely to benefit while minimizing unnecessary toxicity in those unlikely to respond. Kim will be mentored by Charles Perou, PhD, associate professor of genetics and pathology.

Miller’s research focuses on the most common type of brain cancer called glioblastoma. New molecular developments have shown that glioblastoma is not a single disease, but, instead is a spectrum of disease subtypes that develop along distinct molecular pathways, so the current therapies aren’t specific enough to benefit the individual patient. Miller will work with pre-clinical molecular analyses and models to develop diagnostic tests to subtype glioblastoma with the goal of using these subtypes to develop clinical trials for specific subtypes of these tumors.. Miller will be mentored by Perou and Terry Van Dyke, Ph.D., Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Genetics.

UNC Lineberger Cancer Center contact: Ellen de Graffenreid, (919) 962-3405

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