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Inaugural Alumni Fellowship awarded

Seung Choi

Seung Choi

Collaborations between faculty, graduate students and postdocs are a mainstay and core value of research at the Salk. These collaborations recently took a new direction— outside the laboratory.

Recognizing the ongoing need for postdoc support, Salk faculty issued a challenge to alumni—those scientists who trained in the Institute's labs—to match their philanthropic contributions dollar for dollar to establish the Alumni Fellowship Fund. Many alumni responded with gifts, and the first Alumni Fellowship has now been awarded, to Seung Choi in Katherine Jones's lab.

"I am extremely grateful for the support the Alumni Fellowship is providing for my work," Choi says. "This will allow me to expand my research into a key molecular pathway involved in the development of cancers."

Choi's research is focused on the Wnt signaling pathway, which controls cell proliferation, differentiation and embryonic stem cell growth. Although the Wnt pathway is normally active only during development, it can become inappropriately reactivated in adult cells, giving rise to colon cancer, melanomas, prostate cancer, breast cancer and several other aggressive malignancies, resulting in a poor prognosis. Therefore, the deregulation of this pathway is directly responsible for the vast majority of human cancers.

Choi is specifically studying the Wnt pathway in human colon and prostate cancers, and he made the surprising discovery that the APC tumor suppressor protein, which is mutated in 85% of human colon cancers, collaborates with a metastatic tumor suppressor, called alpha-catenin, to switch off the expression of genes that drive cell growth and proliferation. Consequently, colon cancer cells with mutant APC protein, or prostate cancers that lack the alpha-catenin tumor suppressor, fail to turn off these same sets of pro-growth genes.

Choi has created a new model for Wnt signaling that makes clear predictions that can be directly tested experimentally, and he is developing a stable human prostate cell line to explore the pathway further.

"The Salk faculty are very generous in their support of science research, and we are excited that Seung Choi was recently selected as the inaugural fellow for this award," says Jones. "The funding from the Salk Alumni Fellowship Fund will provide essential support for this early, promising research."

Please collaborate with Salk faculty in this critically important endeavor and make your contribution today. Your support of the Alumni Fellowship Fund will help especially talented postdocs get a jump on their careers. To learn more, call (858) 453-4100, ext. 1405 or email mshockro@salk.edu