Thijn Brummelkamp wins Kimmel Scholar Award

May 11, 2006

Tags: Awards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 11, 2006) — Whitehead Fellow Thijn Brummelkamp is one of 15 young scientists to win the 2006 Kimmel Scholar Award, sponsored by the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research. All recipients will receive $100,000 per year for two years, provided they continue to pursue cancer research at a non-profit U.S.-based institution.

Approximately 200 scientists applied for this year’s award. According to a statement released by the foundation, “This award is designed to support superb, dedicated young scientists who establish themselves during the critical period between postdoctoral studies, or fellowship, and procurement of an RO1 grant.” (An RO1 is a standard grant issued by the National Institutes of Health.)

Brummelkamp exploits a process called RNA interference (RNAi), which can selectively turn off specific genes, to study genes implicated in cancer. He and his colleagues hope to use RNAi to identify vulnerabilities in a cancer cell’s genetic make-up that can be targeted by new therapeutics.

To apply RNAi, researchers must develop short, single-stranded pieces of RNA that target a particular gene. This small piece of RNA will disrupt the gene’s ability to produce protein within the cell, essentially “silencing” the gene. While this process has been tremendously successful in a variety of research settings, the short lives of these small RNA molecules make them difficult to use for cancer research, in which the cells need to be observed over long periods of time throughout many cell divisions.

Brummelkamp addressed this problem. While still in graduate school, he and his colleagues developed a small RNA molecule shaped like a hairpin that could last the entire life of the cell. He did this by engineering a plasmid, a circular strand of DNA that encodes the hairpin RNA molecule. When placed into a cell, the plasmid enables the cell to naturally produce this small RNA molecule, and thus to permanently shut down the targeted gene. The plasmid continues to produce the small hairpin RNA in the cell’s progeny as well. While Brummelkamp uses this technique primarily for cancer, it has wide application in many areas of molecular biology.

He received his MS in biology from the Free University, Amsterdam, in 1998. He did his graduate research at The Netherlands Cancer Institute and received his PhD cum laude in 2003 from Utrecht University.

Brummelkamp is one of 130 scholars provided with funding through the Sidney Kimmel Foundation since 1995.

Written by David Cameron.

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