February 17, 2006

Cancer research earns Engel national award

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Michael Engel, M.D., Ph.D.

Cancer research earns Engel national award

Michael Engel, M.D., Ph.D., has received a 2006 Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (ASPHO).

Engel, a fellow in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, was one of two recipients of the national award, which recognizes excellence in basic science research related to cancer pathogenesis.

His abstract is titled “Phosphorylation-mediated control of transcriptional repression by the myeloid translocation gene protein, MTG16: Implications for hematopoietic stem cell self renewal and leukemogenesis.”

Engel will present it during the ASPHO's annual meeting on April 30 in San Francisco.

“Obviously it's a great honor to be selected for any kind of national recognition. Better still is the privilege of working with the people that I get to work with every day and to care for the families of children with cancer. I am humbled by both things.” Engel said.

“I really enjoy taking care of patients. It is very fulfilling on a personal level with that one family. But in the lab, you can potentially benefit so many more people — you can do a tremendous amount to help people that you will never know personally.”

Others taking part in the research include Aubrey Hunt, a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine student, and Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. The research was sponsored by James Whitlock, M.D., director of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology.

"I am delighted that Mike has received this award,” Whitlock said. “It is an appropriate and deserved recognition of the outstanding research he has been conducting under the mentorship of Scott Hiebert, and will likely be only the first of many awards for his work."

Engel's research focuses on myeloid translocation gene (MTG) proteins, which control gene expression and play pivotal roles in the development of human cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia and breast cancer. They are frequently disrupted by chromosomal translocations or other mutations.

“Although we have known about these proteins for some time, our understanding of how they contribute to cancer development is still in its infancy. We still have a lot to learn, as acute myeloid leukemia is ultimately fatal in as many as 50 percent of patients.”

“If we can understand how the functions of MTG proteins are regulated, we may be able to manipulate the translocation proteins characteristic of myeloid leukemia, or overcome the loss of MTG proteins seen frequently in breast cancer,” Engel said.

“We have shown that the ability of MTG proteins to regulate gene expression might be altered by phosphorlyation, which is an important first step,” he said.

Engel hopes that once there is a better understanding of this process, it could lead to novel treatments for diverse types of cancers in children and adults.

“One day, I hope we'll get cancer cells to do what we want them to do instead of what they want to do,” Engel said.