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Scientist with novel cancer treatment idea is awarded inaugural Gotham Prize

Scientist with novel cancer treatment idea is awarded inaugural Gotham Prize

NEW YORK—Researchers in DNA markers and photon-activation therapy have garnered more than $1 million dollars for personal use through the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research, a newly established award designed to encourage innovations in cancer research.

Alexander Varshavsky, PhD, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena received $1 million for his research on deletion-specific targeting (DST). Dr. Varshavsky is the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Professor of Cell Biology at Caltech.

The Ira Sohn Research Conference Foundation Prize in Pediatric Oncology, worth $250,000, was bestowed on Mark Carol, MD. Dr. Carol currently serves as the medical director for Xoft, a Sunnyvale, California-based maker of electronic brachytherapy devices (see article on page 42). His research is based on low-dose radiation therapy.

DST: without ‘collateral damage’

DST works by singling out homozygous DNA deletions as cancer targets, according to Dr. Varshavsky. This homozygous deletion-specific anticancer regimen is implemented through molecular circuits that combine such techniques as ubiquitin (Ub) fusion and split-protein devices.

“If the DST strategy is implemented in a clinical setting, it may prove to be both curative and free of side effects . . . the challenge of eliminating cancer—any cancer—decisively, completely, and without ‘collateral damage’ to a cancer patient is a major problem that remains fundamentally unsolved, despite enormous efforts by many scientists and physicians over several decades,” Dr. Varshavsky said in a written statement.

Details on Dr. Varshavsky’s work with DST were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (105:76-81, 2008; 104:14935-14940, 2007).

Dr. Varshavsky has been at Caltech since 1992. Born and raised in Russia, he studied at Moscow State University and the Institute of Molecular Biology. He immigrated to the US in 1977.

Powering low-energy x-rays

Dr. Carol’s project is a prototype scanning electron-beam delivery device using low-dose kilovoltage (kV) radiation vs the standard megavolt (MV) radiation. The device uses photon-activation therapy to produce a localized energy release and spare normal tissue, particularly in pediatric patients.

“This work will develop a novel means of increasing significantly the amount of radiation dose deposited at depth by kV x-rays . . . to deliver radiation therapy . . . at a fraction of the cost of the MV technologies currently used,” Dr. Carol explained.

A neurosurgeon by training, Dr. Carol has developed diagnostic and radiation therapy devices for companies such as Nomos, DxTx, and Enki, Inc.

Gotham Prize

The Gotham Prize was launched in 2007 by two hedge fund managers, Joel Greenblatt and Robert Goldstein of Gotham Capital, and Gary Curhan, MD, ScD, associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School. The Ira Sohn Research Conference Foundation provides support for the Gotham Prize.

The winners were chosen by an advisory board that included Bert Vogelstein, MD, of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and Harvard’s Meir Stampfer, MD, DrPH.

The Gotham Prize is open to all individuals, both in the United States and internationally, who qualify for membership with the organization. Once accepted, members are required to share their ideas on the website by posting a short thesis/proposal and answering questions from the Advisory Board as well as other members and guests. Applications are available at www.gothamprize.org Only individuals can apply for a prize; proposals can range from basic science to clinically focused cancer research.

“We believe that making progress in cancer research means sharing ideas and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “The Gotham Prize was created to encourage a bold, new marketplace of ideas—ideas that would not necessarily attract funding from traditional sources but that could spur breakthoughs in cancer research.”

 
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