Joon-Ho Sheen receives grant from U.S. Department of Defense

October 27, 2004

Tags: Sabatini LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The United States Department of Defense has awarded a $296,568 grant to Joon-Ho Sheen, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Whitehead Institute Associate Member David Sabatini.

The three-year grant will fund Sheen’s work in breast cancer research. Sheen is interested in how a particular complex of proteins referred to as the mTOR signaling complex may play a role in tumor growth in vivo.

Generally, mTOR regulates a cell’s ability to grow—not to divide, but to literally expand its mass and increase in size. Researchers believe that the mTOR complex, when it is working properly, enables the cell to sense energy and nutrients in its environment. When the environment is nutrient-rich, the cell will grow; when there is a dearth of nutrients, the cell remains in check. In cancers, researchers have found that although the environment surrounding tumors becomes gradually deprived of nutrients, they maintain their ability to grow. Sheen hypothesizes that this may be due to an alteration in the mTOR signaling pathway, providing cancer cells a growth advantage over healthy normal cells. Sheen intends to spend the next three years using approaches such as engineered animal models to study nutrient sensitivity in a variety of cancers, including breast cancer.

The Department of Defense has been funding breast cancer research for eleven years. According to Katherine Moore, grants manager for the DoD’s Breast Cancer Research Program, “The reviewers of this grant felt that Sheen’s proposal was innovative. It’s a concept that really hasn’t been investigated by other researchers.” The purpose of the grant, she says, is to train young scientists to become breast-cancer researchers.

In this round of awards, the DoD funded 38 scientists for breast cancer research, totaling $137,078,858.

Written by David Cameron.

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