December 10, 2020

Award-winning cancer researcher to join Salk faculty

Salk News

Award-winning cancer researcher to join Salk faculty

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute is excited to welcome Assistant Professor Christina Towers, a top researcher in the field of cancer biology. Towers will join Salk’s renowned NCI-designated Cancer Center to examine how cancer cells recycle both their own nutrients and the power-generating structures called mitochondria in order to survive. Her long-term goal is to improve the treatment options for cancer patients.

Christina Towers
Christina Towers

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Credit: Bekah Broas/BLB Photography

“Christina is an innovative cancer researcher who is taking novel approaches to understand the biological basis of cancer,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “Although she is an early-career scientist, Christina is already an accomplished researcher in her field, and we are thrilled to have her join the Salk faculty.”

Ongoing clinical trials have repeatedly shown that tumor cells can adapt to cancer-fighting medications, which leads to a recurrence of the cancer. Towers is using a combination of gene-editing techniques, light-based genetic manipulation (optogenetics), three-dimensional miniature organs (“organoids”), and detailed imaging to identify the best ways to target the recycling pathways that cancer cells use to adapt and survive. Her results will hopefully lead to new targeted cancer therapies that can improve patient outcomes and survival.

“Christina is a creative dynamo unafraid to ask big biological questions that will lead to new breakthroughs in cancer. Her research fits perfectly with the strengths of the Salk Cancer Center, and we are excited to see her future successes,” says Salk Cancer Center Director Reuben Shaw.

Towers joins Salk from the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, where she was a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Andrew Thorburn. She holds numerous awards including the Outstanding Dissertation Award for her PhD in molecular biology from the University of Colorado, the Pathway to Independence K99/R00 award, the Cancer League of Colorado Pilot Award, the American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship, two NRSA NIH T32 awards, the UNCF/Merck Graduate Science Research Dissertation Fellowship, the NIH R0-1 Diversity Supplement Graduate Fellowship, three UC Department of Pharmacology Excellence in Research Awards, along with many others.

The BioMed Realty Management Team has announced that it will match up to $1 million to fund Towers’ recruitment and to support her research and that of the Salk Cancer Center. BioMed’s president and CEO, Tim Schoen, is a Salk trustee and chairman of the Institute’s Conquering Cancer Initiative Advisory Committee.

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Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin.