Cancer researcher and immunologist Professor Hua Eleanor Yu of the Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope Medical Center, Duarte, California, USA, has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) at an award ceremony in Berlin in the evening of June 4th, 2014. The award is connected with an invitation to spend a period of up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with a research institution in Germany. Professor Yu selected the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, a member of the Helmholtz Association, as her host institution. With Professor Yu, a total of 36 scientists have received the prestigious award in 2014. It is valued at 60,000 EUR and is granted by the Humboldt Foundation to “academics, whose fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.”
Professor Yu has been working for years with the immunologist Professor Thomas Blankenstein (MDC and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin). The two researchers have already co-authored publications, and Professor Blankenstein was a visiting professor in Professor Yu’s laboratory in Duarte. In Berlin Professor Yu will work together with Professor Blankenstein and colleagues to test new treatment methods based on her basic research using a model for virus-induced liver cancer developed by scientists at the MDC and which is very similar to the clinical situation.
Professor Yu’s research activities focus on a group of proteins that are crucial for the life cycles of cancer cells. Cancer cells employ a variety of survival strategies: they proliferate unchecked, elude the immune system and evade apoptosis, the body’s protective program that induces programmed cell death in defective cells. Furthermore, they can form secondary tumors (metastases). In addition, cancer cells have a cell survival strategy against starvation. They release molecules to promote angiogenesis, the growth of a blood vessel network to provide the tumor with its own blood supply.
The regulation of all of these processes is contributed by a group of proteins called STAT (signal transducer and activator of transcription), particularly STAT3. Professor Yu is a pioneer in the STAT3 field. She was the first to discover that activated STAT3 promotes cancer growth not only by increasing tumor cell survival but also by modulating the immune system, and she showed how the protein achieves this. STAT3 also drives the crosstalk between the cancer cells and the healthy cells in and around the tumor, thus influencing its immediate surroundings to favor tumor progression. Because of its key importance in diverse human tumors, STAT3 is regarded as a promising target for cancer therapy.
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
in the Helmholtz Association
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
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