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Salk researcher named Damon Runyon Fellow

Lora B. Sweeney

Lora B. Sweeney

Lora B. Sweeney, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Christopher Kintner, has been named a Damon Runyon Fellow.

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting innovative early career researchers, selected Sweeney as one of only 18 recipients last fall. The prestigious $156,000 award is intended to encourage the nation's most promising young investigators to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding to work on innovative projects.

Sweeney was cosponsored by Kintner, a professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, and Thomas M. Jessell, a Salk Non-Resident Fellow (NRF) and professor in Columbia University's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics.

As a NRF, Jessell is part of an elite group of scientists nominated by the President and faculty who serve as Salk faculty members for renewable six-year terms, advising the institute on appointments, promotions and scientific programs. These individuals come from world-renowned academic organizations where they have achieved high levels of success in the scientific disciplines investigated at the Salk Institute. Their expertise helps identify new research trends, and ensures that the Institute maintains the highest standards accomplishing world-class science.

Sweeney is using the frog as a model to study how neurons diversify in the spinal cord as limbs develop and a swimming tadpole becomes a hopping frog. Many different types of nerve cells, each with their own unique characteristics, make up the healthy nervous system. Understanding how a cell's fate is specified will provide the basis for understanding how cancer reprograms a cell.

"I hope that by tracking the same course as evolution—from swimming to limb-based movement—in a single organism, we will reveal new principles of neuron identity, organization and ultimately, function," says Sweeney. "As one of the first scientists to work on the metamorphic frog, we are developing a new system. It is wonderful to have the support of the Damon Runyon Foundation on this pioneering journey."