June 9, 2005

Salk Institute scientist Geoff Wahl named President-elect of world's largest cancer research organization

Salk News

Salk Institute scientist Geoff Wahl named President-elect of world’s largest cancer research organization

La Jolla, CA – Geoffrey M. Wahl, Ph.D., professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, recently was elected the 2006-07 president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to accelerating scientific progress to prevent and cure cancer.

In his research in the Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, Wahl is trying to determine, at the most basic molecular level of cells and genes, how cancer originates and progresses, and why tumors become resistant to even the most powerful anti-cancer drugs.

Wahl has developed numerous research techniques that have been widely patented and licensed, and he has authored over 120 research papers including one that is a ‘Citation Classic’ because it has been so frequently referenced by other scientists in their research articles.

Wahl said that he had dedicated his research career to understanding how cancer begins, in order to understand how to end the disease by precisely blocking the molecular mutations that transform a normal cell in the body into a cancerous cell. Now as president-elect of AACR and next year as president of the organization, he hopes to expand his efforts against cancer

“I see significant opportunities for advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment as our knowledge of the molecular biology of cancer increases,” said Wahl, who as AACR president will expand the organizations research and education programs to include, for example, ‘think tanks.’

“Think tanks should be formed that take advantage of our international brain trust to anticipate those areas likely to make the biggest impacts in basic, clinical, and translational research and to develop mechanisms to stimulate the next generation of research in those fields,” Wahl explained.

Of special interest to Wahl is the AACR ScientistSurvivor Program, because it fosters interactions between biomedical research scientists, such as himself, and people who are cancer survivors and their advocates.

“The AACR must develop even stronger ties with cancer survivors,” said Wahl. “The ScientistSurvivor Program must continue to improve public dissemination of the most recent information on prevention, diagnosis and treatment and to create the informed political base needed to advance cancer research programs.”

Wahl’s studies encompass molecular biology and the genetics of cancer; genetic instability during cancer initiation and progression; cellular responses to chemotherapeutic agents; oncogene signaling and other stresses related to cancer development or treatment; initiation of DNA replication in normal and malignant cells; and development of targeted therapeutics.

Wahl and his colleagues have investigated mechanisms of genetic instability in cancer cells, which led to their demonstration that integrity of the p53 tumor suppressor pathway is essential for maintaining genome stability. Their current research uses the p53 pathway as a model to understand the mechanisms by which normal and cancer cells sense and respond to the diverse stresses that contribute to cancer development.

Using animal and in vitro two-dimensional and three-dimensional models, they investigate how p53 structure – and the regulatory proteins with which it interacts – enables different gene expression patterns to be elicited depending on the stress and tissue in which the system is activated. Wahl and his group are integrating this information to develop molecularly targeted therapies to activate the p53 pathway to induce cell death in the significant fraction of cancers that retain wild type p53 genes.

After earning a doctorate in biological chemistry at Harvard University, Wahl completed postdoctoral research at Stanford University. In his volunteer work for AACR, he a member of the Board of Directors and served as program chairperson of the organization’s annual meeting. He also is a member of the editorial boards of the journals Molecular Cancer Research and Cell Growth and Differentiation and has held numerous other, special conference chairs and committee posts.

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