Dr. Muneesh Tewari wins $450,000 Damon Runyon award

Human Biology researcher focuses on microRNAs made by tumor cells as potential early detection targets
Dr. Muneesh Tewari
Dr. Muneesh Tewari will receive $450,000 over three years. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh

Dr. Muneesh Tewari, of the Human Biology Division, has received $450,000 over three years from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation to pursue early detection research for lung and other cancers.

He is one of three early career scientists to receive the 2009 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Awards, given annually to advance projects that "have the potential to have a major impact on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer."

For many years, scientists have attempted to detect microscopic elements of tumors in blood to diagnose cancer in its early stages. With the recent advancements in computing power and DNA sequencing, Tewari has pursued a new line of research focused on microRNAs.

MicroRNA discovery

Tewari discovered that certain microRNAs are made only by tumor cells and that these can be detected in blood samples. His work could lead to the development of a sensitive blood test for cancers, particularly lung cancer, which is notoriously difficult to detect in its initial stages.

“We have come to a point where a substantial new approach for early detection has opened up, yet the work is so early that traditional sources of funding are not willing to invest in it,” Tewari said. “Thanks to the foundation and the Rachleffs’ vision and support, the concept will be able to be developed with full vigor.”

Venture capitalist Andy Rachleff and his wife, Debbie, partnered with the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation to create the Innovation Award in 2007 to support “out-of-the-box ideas” with “huge potential.”

For more information, visit www.damonrunyon.org.

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