Asha Pillai, PhD

Pillai named 2012 V Scholar

Memphis, Tennessee, October 1, 2012


Asha Pillai, MD, Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, has been named a 2012 V Scholar in Cancer Research.

Identified by the V Scholars Program as one of 17 of the country’s most gifted biomedical scientists in cancer research, Pillai will receive funding during the next two years to support her research, which focuses on unraveling the mechanisms that control cytotoxic function of human invariant natural killer T (iNKT) cells against leukemias.

V Scholars are junior faculty members at medical schools and research institutions who show outstanding promise in the basic and clinical sciences. The V Scholars Program, funded by of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, was created on the premise that resources awarded early in the scholars’ careers could provide more independence to some of the greatest emerging scientific minds, freeing them to focus earlier on their own areas of interest. The competitive awards provide flexible support to the scholars as they establish their laboratories and continue research in their areas of focus. This $3.4 million initiative, which funds “rising star” physicians and scientists as they begin their careers in cancer research, is an important and compelling component of The V Foundation’s overall grant objective.

“The V Scholars are chosen from the best and brightest young cancer researchers across our country,” Robert C. Bast Jr., a member of The V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, said in a release. “We are investing in the careers of scientists whose discoveries will cure this large family of diseases.”

“Supporting cancer investigators early in their career not only advances specific research projects that are at the forefront of scientific discovery,” said Susan Braun, CEO of The V Foundation. “It also adds to the cadre of people dedicated to ending cancer. We believe that the V Scholar grants are an investment in extraordinary people as well as in important research. The benefits are lifelong.”

V Scholar applicants must be nominated by an invited institution and demonstrate excellence and innovation in their research. Awardees are chosen by a national advisory committee of biomedical scientists. Previous scholars have gone on to become internationally recognized in their fields including election to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Scientist Program, American Society of Clinical Investigation (ASCI), and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“I am very grateful to the V Foundation for their funding support and to their Scientific Advisory Board for selecting my group for this honor,” said Dr. Pillai. “This award provides not only critical funding, but also gives my team important scientific validation as we pursue a significant therapeutic challenge.Our current efforts with human iNKT cells stem directly from significant pre-clinical data I and my laboratory group have generated in the past three years. We look forward to carrying these studies to the next level by developing the immunologic support for novel iNKT-driven immunotherapies in the near future.”