Please note that some translations using Google Translate may not be accurately represented and downloaded documents cannot be translated. Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund assume no liability for inaccuracies that may result from using this third-party tool, which is for website translation.
Please note that some translations using Google Translate may not be accurately represented and downloaded documents cannot be translated. Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund assume no liability for inaccuracies that may result from using this third-party tool, which is for website translation.

Damon Runyon invests in promising early career scientists

Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

Summer 2024
By Kathy Clute
Photography by Harry Liang

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has awarded more than $3.2 million in grants to nine early career investigators at Dana-Farber, including Mounica Vallurupalli, MD, who was named the foundation’s first Damon Runyon-David M. Livingston, MD, Physician-Scientist. The late David Livingston, MD, was a prominent expert on the molecular origins of breast and ovarian cancer who held many leadership positions at Dana-Farber for nearly 50 years.

The foundation, founded in 1946 in memory of the iconic sportswriter and journalist Damon Runyon, has invested more than $450 million in nearly 4,000 scientists who are conducting “audacious and ambitious” research into the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. It has supported Dana-Farber investigators with more than $26 million to date.

“We take great pride in enabling brilliant young scientists to take risks and experimentally address important and bold questions in cancer research.”

Yung Lie, PhD, Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

In addition to Vallurupalli’s award, the foundation made the following grants in 2023: the Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists to Benjamin Stinson, PhD; Physician-Scientist Training Award to Nina Weichert-Leahey, MD; Pediatric Cancer Fellowships to April Apfelbaum, PhD, and Costanza Lo Cascio, PhD; a Clinical Investigator Award to Sylvan Baca, MD, PhD; and Postdoctoral Research Fellowships to Kheewoong Baek, PhD, and Anders Dohlman, PhD. The foundation also extended further Damon Runyon- Rachleff Innovation Award funding to Srinivas Viswanathan, MD, PhD.

Mounica Vallurupalli, MD

Vallurupalli is investigating proteins called splicing factors, which when mutated, can cause certain blood cancers to form. Her research focuses on the role of splicing dysregulation in the development of myelodysplastic syndromes and leukemia, which could yield new therapeutic strategies to defeat these cancers.

With his award, Stinson is studying the mechanisms that cells use to repair broken DNA—non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) and homologous recombination (HR). When these are defective, cancers can result. Stinson is researching how HR suppresses cancer when it is working properly and how cancer cells become resistant to treatment when it is not.

Weichert-Leahey will use her grant to test a new drug against neuroblastoma, a cancer that originates in the adrenal glands and is most common in infants and children under five. She will test a promising small molecule drug, PF-9363, together with isotretinoin to see whether the combination therapy can improve outcomes for children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

“We take great pride in enabling brilliant young scientists to take risks and experimentally address important and bold questions in cancer research,” said Yung Lie, PhD, president and chief executive officer of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. “I have no doubt that these Dana-Farber projects will yield exciting results.”

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