July 28, 2006

NCI award recognizes Yi’s research potential

Featured Image

Yajun Yi, Ph.D.

NCI award recognizes Yi’s research potential

Yajun Andrew Yi, Ph.D., has received a five-year, $720,000 award from the National Cancer Institute to support his efforts to identify genes that suppress metastasis in prostate cancer.

The Howard Temin Awards, named for the 1975 Nobel laureate who made discoveries related to tumor viruses, aim to bridge the transition from a mentored research environment to an independent research career for outstanding junior scientists.

Yi, research assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Genetic Medicine, has been working with Robert Matusik, M.D., Alfred George Jr., M.D., and Yu Shyr, Ph.D., to analyze gene expression profiles in prostate cancer. Based on these studies, he developed a novel computational method called Differential Gene Locus Mapping (DIGMAP) to analyze cancer expression profiles in the context of the chromosomal location of each gene.

With the Howard Temin Award, he will now extend his efforts to search for the genetic changes that allow prostate cancer to become metastatic — to move to new sites in the body.

“It is well established that prostate cancer is more life-threatening when it undergoes metastasis,” Yi said. “It is critical to understand the cellular and molecular events that predispose tumor cells to undergo metastasis.”

Yi will take advantage of an experimental mouse model of metastatic prostate cancer. He predicts that the tendency of the cancer to metastasize will be explained by a small population of cells within the tumor that have acquired a new genetic defect.

Yi will compare gene expression profiles of cells that undergo metastasis with cells that remain localized. He hopes to identify a subset of genes that prevent metastasis from occurring under normal conditions — “metastasis-suppressor genes” — and that, when defective, allow metastasis to occur.

“We hope that our findings will improve diagnostic and prognostic indicators for prostate cancer as well as lead to new therapeutic targets to prevent the metastatic spread of prostate cancer,” Yi said.

“I believe the Howard Temin Award will provide me with the sustained support for translational research that will have an impact in reducing prostate cancer incidence and mortality.”

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States, with 30,000 deaths each year.