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Research Highlights

J. Paul Taylor, MD, PhD

Taylor named Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator

J. Paul Taylor, MD, PhD, chair of St. Jude Cell and Molecular Biology, has been selected as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. He is one of 26 scientists nationwide chosen for the recognition from more than 1,000 applicants. There are approximately 330 HHMI investigators in the United States, and Taylor will become the fourth of these investigators currently working at St. Jude.

Investigators selected for the program by HHMI are some of the country’s top biomedical researchers, demonstrating creativity, innovation and excellence in their areas of study. Taylor is an expert in the fields of cell and molecular biology, neurological diseases and genetics.

“In science, really big payoffs come when you stick your neck out,” Taylor said. “HHMI support will allow my team to be creative and take chances, which will hopefully lead to ground-breaking scientific contributions. I am honored to be named an HHMI investigator, and am looking forward to collaborating with the other investigators to further advance scientific innovation.”

Taylor joins St. Jude researchers Charles Sherr, MD, PhDBrenda Schulman, PhD, and Michael Dyer, PhD, in holding HHMI investigator designations. Taylor begins his appointment in September.

A lifetime of achievement

Winfred Wang, MD

Winfred Wang, MD, of St. Jude Hematology, is the recipient of the 2015 American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Distinguished Career Award. A gifted physician and noted investigator, Wang conducts research on blood disorders such as sickle cell disease. He joined St. Jude in 1979. This national award recognized Wang for the dramatic impact he has made on the field through his research, education, patient care and advocacy.


Scientists find defects caused by brain tumor mutations

Understanding how genetic changes disrupt cell function is a key step in developing better cancer treatments. Researchers use the details to target defects that support cancer cells. The goal is to create precise treatments that save lives with fewer side effects.

Scientists from St. Jude joined forces to find defects caused by two mutations in the DDX3X gene.

Janet Patridge, PhD, and Eric Enemark, PhD

The findings built on earlier work from the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. That study found that DDX3X is often altered in patients with medulloblastoma, particularly those with the WNT subtype of the brain tumor.

Medulloblastoma is the most common childhood brain tumor. For decades, doctors treated medulloblastoma as a single disease, even though it has four different subtypes. Thanks in part to St. Jude researchers, that is changing. The latest findings may help advance those efforts.

“The defects we found could provide the basis for developing specific therapies for patients with these mutations,” said Eric Enemark, PhD, of St. Jude Structural Biology.

He and Janet Partridge, PhDPathology, led the research. The study appeared in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Preserving the power of glucocorticoids to fight leukemia

Steroids called glucocorticoids are part of chemotherapy that has transformed treatment of the most common childhood cancer. Today 94 percent of St. Jude patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) will become long-term survivors. But those whose cancer cells are resistant to steroids may not fare as well.

St. Jude scientists searched the cancer genomes of ALL patients to find out how some leukemia cells could resist steroids.

In leukemia cells that resisted the drugs, the genes CASP1 and NLRP3 were more active. NLRP3 makes a protein that works like an “on” switch for CASP1. When scientists reduced CASP1 activity, the steroids worked better against leukemia cells. Scientists also found out why extra CASP1 helped cells resist the drugs.

“The search is on to find small molecules that could help reverse glucocorticoid resistance,” said William Evans, PharmD, Pharmaceutical Sciences. “Glucocorticoids are used to treat asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis and other autoimmune disorders, so these results may benefit a wide range of patients.”

The study appeared in the journal Nature Genetics.

Reprinted from Promise, Summer 2015

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