City of Hope recently announced that several of its researchers and faculty have been named as the recipients of several awards and grants. These accolades recognize individuals for their work in their respective fields of human genetics education, genomic research, and leptomeningeal disease.
Award for Excellence in Human Genetics
Jeffrey N. Weitzel, MD
Kathleen Blazer, EdD, MS, LCGC
The American Society of Human Genetics has named City of Hope’s Jeffrey N. Weitzel, MD, and Kathleen Blazer, EdD, MS, LCGC, as the 2019 recipients the Arno Motulsky-Barton Childs Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education. Dr. Weitzel is Chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genomics and the Cancer Screening and Prevention Program at City of Hope. Dr. Blazer directs City of Hope’s Cancer Genomics Education Program. This award recognizes individuals for contributions of exceptional quality and importance to human genetics education internationally. Drs. Weitzel and Blazer will receive the award in October during the American Society of Human Genetics’ 69th Annual Meeting.
For over 20 years, Drs. Weitzel and Blazer have worked together to provide innovative and impactful cancer genomics education to clinicians and researchers from diverse training backgrounds and practice settings across the United States and internationally. Their National Cancer Institute–funded Cancer Genomics Education Program initiatives have ranged from educating primary care physicians for referral-level competence to preparing master’s and doctoral clinicians for leadership in translational cancer genomics research. They have also provided lay-oriented conferences and workshops for high-risk patients and their families, including programs in Spanish.
NIH Grant for Cancer Genomics Research
Stacy Gray, MD
Stacy Gray, MD, Associate Clinical Professor in City of Hope’s Division of Clinical Cancer Genomics, is one of six physicians to receive an inaugural “Genomic Innovator Award” from the National Human Genome Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The award was created in 2018 to support the early careers of researchers studying genome biology, genomic medicine, technology development, and societal implications of genomic advances. The amount of support to accelerate Dr. Gray’s genomics research is $500,000+ per year over a 5-year project period.
Dr. Gray’s research focuses on understanding the factors that drive the use of novel and established cancer genomic tests and therapies. She has previously shown that people are often unaware that their genome has been sequenced or understand the implications of their results. In addition, many physicians also do not understand the DNA-sequence information gathered. Through the Genomic Innovator Award funding, Dr. Gray will develop an interactive Web-based, point-of-care tool for physicians and patients that will help providers and patients better understand genomic information. The application will also facilitate sharing of genomic information within families, ultimately leading to higher quality patient care.
Department of Defense Grant for Leptomeningeal Disease
Rahul Jandial, MD, PhD
Rahul Jandial, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in City of Hope’s Division of Neurosurgery, has received the “Breakthrough” award and a $1.35 million grant from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program to support his laboratory research into leptomeningeal disease. The disease is characterized by the spreading of tumor cells to the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Despite its discovery nearly 150 years ago, it remains an ominous diagnosis with few treatment options. “The spread of cancer to this unique fluid space is associated with the worst prognosis, often only months, and excludes patients from other medicines and clinical trials,” Dr. Jandial said.
“The spread of cancer to this unique fluid space is associated with the worst prognosis, often only months, and excludes patients from other medicines and clinical trials,” Dr. Jandial said.
Dr. Jandial explained that his research team’s early findings show that one of the three main cell types in the brain (oligodendrocyte precursor cells) may create an environment that is less hospitable to cancer cell invasion. Based on these clinical observations, Dr. Jandial will investigate the cancer biology driving the development of leptomeningeal disease as well as the oligodendrocyte precursor cell–derived signals that prevent it. ■