September 25, 2009

Jessen lands research award from American Cancer Society

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Jason Jessen, Ph.D.

Jessen lands research award from American Cancer Society

Jason Jessen, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, has been awarded a four-year, $720,000 research scholar grant from the American Cancer Society.

The “Research Scholar Grants in Basic, Preclinical, Clinical and Epidemiology Research” provide support for independent, self-directed researchers in the first six years of their independent research careers to conduct basic, preclinical, clinical and epidemiology research projects.

Jessen's grant will support his research on how cancer cells spread through the body and invade distant tissues.

When tumor cells migrate away from the primary tumor, they tend to invade host tissues as groups of cells that maintain some level of cohesion.

Studying this process — called “collective migration” — is difficult using isolated human cancer cells cultured in plastic flasks.

Taking advantage of the fact that collective migration also occurs during normal vertebrate embryonic development, Jessen is using zebrafish to study this process and the proteins that promote it.

His preliminary work has demonstrated the importance of the WNT signaling pathway — a key regulator of cell polarity and collective migration in embryos — and enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) to the process.

The ACS grant will support further studies about how the MMP enzymes interact with the WNT pathway to promote cancer cell migration.

In the long term, Jessen hopes that these studies may identify new candidates for anti-invasive therapies that do not adversely affect normal physiology.

“I am quite honored to receive such a competitive award from the American Cancer Society,” said Jessen.

“This research allows us the unique opportunity to identify proteins regulating collective migration in the zebrafish embryo and then to determine whether reiteration of these mechanisms promotes human cancer cell invasion.”

Jessen is a member of the Division of Genetic Medicine and the Institute for Integrative Genomics.