June 17, 2005

Investigator lands Damon Runyon research award

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Christine Chung, M.D.

Investigator lands Damon Runyon research award

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has awarded its major clinical investigator award to a Vanderbilt physician-scientist for the third time since 2002.

Christine Chung, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, is the second investigator mentored by David P. Carbone, M.D., Ph.D., to receive the Damon Runyon Research Foundation/Lilly Clinical Investigator Award.

The award is intended to foster the careers of promising young investigators who are dedicated to conducting patient-oriented research

“This award is a great honor for Dr. Chung and we are very proud of her accomplishments,” said Eric G. Neilson, M.D., Morgan Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine.

“Christine is Vanderbilt's third recipient of the Runyon Award and the second under David Carbone's mentorship. With this kind of talent, Vanderbilt is clearly a superb place to begin a career in cancer research.”

The award will provide $750,000 over five years to support Chung's work to use DNA microarray technology to identify patterns of gene expression to predict which patients with head and neck cancers are likely to experience a recurrence and which recurrent tumors will respond to specific chemotherapies. The award also will retire up to $100,000 in medical school debt.

“Treatment of head and neck cancers is notoriously difficult because of the many important structures in this area that are involved with vital functions such as eating, breathing and talking,” Chung said.

“New treatments with chemotherapy and radiation therapy can preserve these structures, but they also can have serious side effects. In about half of patients with head and neck cancers, the tumor will recur despite initially responding well to therapy.

“We hope that as a result of our studies, we will be able to do a better job at ensuring patients receive the treatment that will give them the best chances of a cure.”

Pierre P. Massion, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine, received the Runyon Award in 2003 to support his search for specific markers in blood and in the airways that would detect lung cancer early and identify those at risk for developing the disease. Massion works closely with Carbone, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Medicine, as an investigator in Vanderbilt's Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in lung cancer, one of only seven such programs in the country.

William M. Grady, formerly assistant professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, also received the award while a member of the Vanderbilt faculty in 2002.

Raymond N. DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Grady's former division chief in Gastroenterology, noted the importance of the Runyon Award to provide funding to help launch careers of physician-scientists who will focus on translational cancer research.

“The physician-scientist is a critical link between exciting discoveries in the laboratory and application of those advances to patient care,” DuBois said.

“The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is deeply committed to providing an environment that fosters the development of translational investigators. The support of private organizations like the Runyon Foundation is critical, as is the very effective mentorship by senior scientists like David Carbone. I congratulate both Christine and David on this exciting accomplishment.”

Chung also credited others for their support.

“ I also thank Drs. Barbara Murphy, Mace Rothenberg and Wendell Yarbrough for serving in my Career Development Committee with Dr. Carbone, which played a critical role getting this award.”

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation/Lilly Clinical Investigator Award is designed to “help rescue an endangered species,” the physician willing to devote his or her career to the development and application of new diagnostic, therapeutic and prevention strategies for cancer through clinical and translational research.

The foundation was created in 1946 by popular radio journalist Walter Winchell after the cancer-related death of his friend, story writer and journalist Damon Runyon.

Winchell himself died of cancer in 1972.

The foundation supports young investigators working in all areas of cancer research, including all types of tumors as well as areas relevant to multiple cancers, such as tumor metastases.

The foundation has invested more than $135 million and supported more than 3,000 scientists.

The Clinical Investigator Award was established in 2000 in partnership with Eli Lilly & Co.