Whitehead’s Luke Whitesell receives top research grant from Johnson & Johnson

October 10, 2008

Tags: Lindquist LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Luke Whitesell, MD, a senior research scientist in Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist’s lab, has been chosen to participate in Johnson & Johnson’s Focused Funding Program. His selection fosters a collaborative relationship with Johnson & Johnson scientists and provides $200,000 of unrestricted grant support over the next two years.

Whitesell was selected on the merits of his basic research involving the cellular heat shock response and heat shock proteins, a class of molecules that guides other proteins to fold correctly. This complex machinery affects many processes including the cell’s response to environmental stresses and pathological abnormalities of intracellular signaling.  Whitesell, a pediatric oncologist, is particularly interested in how the system supports and stabilizes numerous cancer-causing proteins. His work and that of others have shown that inhibiting certain heat shock proteins can selectively disrupt the growth and survival of cancer cells leading to current clinical trials of several promising new anticancer drugs.  

“The funding will enable me to pursue my translational research interests in the heat shock response and it fosters a truly valuable relationship with Johnson & Johnson,” says Whitesell. “The opportunity to develop technologies and new reagents to improve our understanding of the heat shock machinery and its role in cancer is exciting.”

The partnership with Johnson & Johnson will allow Whitesell to further explore the development of drug-like molecules that modulate the role of heat shock proteins and interfere with the signaling pathways involved in a cancer cell’s survival network. The growth and survival of cancer cells has been linked to an increased dependence on HSF1, a protein that acts as the master regulator of heat shock protein levels and other cellular adaptations to stress. Using genetic techniques, Whitesell plans to define the pathways inside cells that regulate HSF1 and in turn affect the function of heat shock proteins.

Johnson & Johnson established the program in 1980 to foster breakthroughs in biomedical research. The company makes no proprietary claim on any potential findings.  Funds for the grant are administered at the corporate level through the Corporate Office of Science & Technology, in support of research at prominent colleges, universities, and research institutions around the world.

Written by Cristin Carr.

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