NCI selects UTSW cancer researcher to receive Outstanding Investigator Award

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has selected UT Southwestern Medical Center cancer researcher Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis to receive its prestigious Outstanding Investigator Award. The award includes annual funding of $600,000 for seven years to support Dr. DeBerardinis' continuing research into changes in cellular metabolism that occur in cancer.

Award recipients are cancer researchers who have served as principal investigators on an NCI grant project and who have demonstrated outstanding productivity. The NCI Outstanding Investigator Award, developed in 2014, provides the selected researchers substantial time to continue their work or to embark on new projects of high risk and potential.

"This award means a lot to my laboratory. The fact that it's an unusually long grant will allow us to take on some very challenging questions that we hope will push the field in new directions. The recognition by the NCI and the review panel is also meaningful because it signals enthusiasm for the work we've been doing in cancer metabolism and optimism that we can continue to make discoveries," said Dr. DeBerardinis, Professor and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism at UT Southwestern. Dr. DeBerardinis is a member of the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI), the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"The NCI Outstanding Investigator Award addresses a problem that many cancer researchers experience: finding a balance between focusing on their science while ensuring that they will have funds to continue their research in the future," said Dinah Singer, Ph.D., Director of NCI's Division of Cancer Biology. "With seven years of uninterrupted funding, NCI is providing investigators the opportunity to fully develop exceptional and ambitious cancer research programs."

Dr. DeBerardinis' research focuses on cellular metabolism and how altered metabolic states stimulate the development or progression of cancer. In cancer, metabolism is reprogrammed by mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressors that cause benign cells to become malignant. Dr. DeBerardinis' lab uses carbon and nitrogen isotopes to trace metabolic pathways in living tissue, including tumors.

"This approach has allowed us not only to characterize metabolic alterations in cancer, but also to begin to understand the factors that cause a tumor to change its metabolism. The OIA will allow us to develop new and more powerful tools to understand metabolic flux in these tumors, and will allow us to broaden our assessment of human lung cancer metabolism," said Dr. DeBerardinis, who holds the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D. Chair in Pediatrics. "Ultimately we hope this research will lead to better ways to treat cancer and to recognize it at its earliest stages."

Previous work by Dr. DeBerardinis’ lab has described ways that cancer cells use alternate forms of well-known metabolic pathways such as the pentose phosphate pathway, Krebs cycle and urea cycle to resist toxic stresses and grow.

“This work and all the discovery it generates will have high implications for the eventual prevention and treatment of cancer in patients,” said Dr. Carlos L. Arteaga, Director of the Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and Associate Dean of Oncology Programs at UT Southwestern. Dr. Arteaga holds the Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.


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