March 24, 2008

Salk scientist wins 2007 Young Investigator's Award in Gene Therapy for Cancer

Salk News

Salk scientist wins 2007 Young Investigator’s Award in Gene Therapy for Cancer

La Jolla, CA – Dr. Clodagh O’Shea, an assistant professor in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has been selected for the 2007 Young Investigator’s Award in Gene Therapy for Cancer. She will receive $500,000 over a three-year period to develop the “next generation oncolytic adenoviruses for p53-selective tumor therapy.”

Established in 1986 by the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, the Young Investigator’s Award in Gene Therapy for Cancer supports innovative efforts aimed at furthering the development of gene therapy approaches for the treatment of cancer.

Most commonly used chemotherapies are little more than DNA poisons that slow down tumor growth but do not ultimately cure patients. Chemotherapy also has devastating side effects, which is especially tragic in children. There is a desperate need to identify new drugs and therapeutic modalities that conclusively ablate cancer cells but leave normal cells unharmed.

The p53 tumor suppressor pathway is inactivated by mutations in almost every cancer and yet there are no drugs that specifically target p53 defective tumors. O’Shea is working on the development of viruses that act as p53 mutation-guided missiles, which unerringly home in on cancer cells throughout the body and implode them from the inside.

Such oncolytic viruses offer a novel and potentially self-perpetuating cancer therapy: Each time a virus infects a cancer cell and successfully multiplies, the virus ultimately kills the cancer cell by bursting it open to release thousands of viral progenies, which are ready to seek out remaining tumor cells and distant micro-metastases.

Probably no new therapy on the horizon holds more promise than ‘oncolytic viruses’, which have the potential to help save the lives of many cancer patients.

About Clodagh O’Shea

Born and raised in Cork, Ireland, O’Shea earned her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology from the University College Cork, Ireland and her doctorate in Immunology from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF)/Imperial College London, England. After completing a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of California in San Francisco, she was recruited to the Salk Institute in La Jolla in 2007.

About the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy

Founded in 2001, the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy is built on the premise that molecular medicine is the new paradigm to treat disease. Since its inception, the Alliance’s declared goal is to promote gene therapy to combat cancer. To this end, ACGT identifies, funds and monitors innovative research that meets a rigorous set of scientific standards and has the potential, in the foreseeable future, to treat cancers of all types.

About the Salk Institute

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to fundamental discoveries in the life sciences, the improvement of human health and the training of future generations of researchers. Jonas Salk, M.D., whose polio vaccine all but eradicated the crippling disease poliomyelitis in 1955, opened the Institute in 1965 with a gift of land from the City of San Diego and the financial support of the March of Dimes.

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