May 15, 2008
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 awarded the 2008 Beckmann Young Investigator Award. She will receive $300,000 over a three-year period to develop new technologies for the rapid assembly and cell type-specific targeting of therapeutic viruses.
The Beckman Young Investigators’ program supports the work of the nation’s most promising young researchers in the chemical and life sciences. Only 20 of the awards are given each year.
Being able to assemble custom-tailored viral vectors from genomic components literally overnight – a process that currently takes up to a year – will have a profound impact on gene therapy, the development of vaccines and the next generation of oncolytic viruses.
Dr. O’Shea’s is particularly interested in oncolytic viruses – viruses that can only reproduce in cancer cells. Such 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. The next generation seeks out remaining tumor cells and distant micro-metastases but leaves normal cells unharmed.
In clinical trials, the first prototypes of oncolytic viruses have demonstrated promising efficacy. The clinical experience and new insights into the molecular mechanisms that drive tumor and viral replication can now be used to develop novel viruses with improved therapeutic properties.
“Unfortunately, current methodologies to engineer viral vectors are not only limited but prohibitively slow,” says O’Shea. “The support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation will allow me to develop improved technologies that speed up the process and overcome current limitations.”
She predicts that having new tools to create the next generation of viral gene delivery vehicles will open up radically different ways of studying viruses and exploiting their ability to deliver and express multi-component systems in almost any mammalian cell.
Born and raised in Cork, Ireland, O’Shea earned her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology from the University College Cork, 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.
Considered one of the top five inventors of scientific instruments, Dr. Beckman created devices that revolutionized the study and understanding of human biology. He was deeply grateful to the scientific community that nurtured his success and, through the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, directed his philanthropic efforts to the life sciences. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation makes grants to non-profit research institutions to promote research in chemistry and the life sciences, broadly interpreted, and particularly to foster the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that will open up new avenues of research in science.
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.