Funded fellowships pay dividends

December 22, 2010

Two years after the American Cancer Society (ACS) and MassBio joined forces to keep post doctoral researchers in Massachusetts with the Cancer Research Challenge, the three inaugural fellows have made great progress.

MassBio members AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, EMD Serono, Inc. and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research generously stepped forward with commitments to each fund a three-year fellow. A fourth fellow was sponsored by Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company earlier this year and a fifth fellow will be announced this fall. MassBio caught up with the first three fellows.

Dr. Matthew Ramsey, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals fellow, is looking at the role of a specific protein called p63 in Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). This protein is essential to keeping cancer cells alive, particularly in SCC cancer which is common in organs such as the lung, esophagus, and head and neck regions. The fellowship has allowed him to analyze the way p63 interacts with a large number of other proteins.

“It is important for us to figure out how the protein works and how to control it,” Ramsey said. “Then we’ll be able to figure out how to exploit that for therapeutic use.”

Ramsey, who is conducting his research at the Mass General Hospital Cancer Center, said that this particular fellowship has given him the unique opportunity to interact with ACS, understand how the industry works, and network with the scientific community.

Dr. Paul L. Boutz, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research fellow, has been conducting research at the Koch Institute for Innovative Research at MIT. His experiments focus on RNA biology, particularly with a focus on cancer. His goal is to better understand how mammalian cells take up double stranded RNA in order to improve our ability to turn off specific genes and therebycause cell death and destruction of the cancerous tumors.

According to Boutz, the ACS/MassBio fellowship has been absolutely critical to the work he’s been able to do. “For ACS to be able to bring together groups like MassBio and some of the biotech companies is a fantastic example of what can be done,” Boutz said. “I hope that this type of collaboration can continue to fund people like me in the future.”

Dr. Adam Boutin, EMD Serono, Inc. fellow, said the opportunity has proved to be invaluable.

At the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, he and his team are working to create a better mouse model in which the cancer tumor develops and metastasizes in the colon as a better representation of the human form of the disease.

Dr. Boutin said that the fellowship has provided him with support, not only financially but morally as well. “It gives me hope that if I’ve come this far that I could go farther and become a successful researcher in my own right one day.”

In part because of his award as an ACS/MassBio fellow, Boutin was offered the Helen Hay Whitney fellowship in December of 2009. His new award will allow the Cancer Research Challenge and EMD Serono to fund an additional researcher in 2011.



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