Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist wins three-year Leukemia & Lymphoma Society grant

Jeffrey McKnight's $165,000 Fellow Award will support studies into epigenetic changes associated with cellular quiescence in yeast
Dr. Jeffrey McKnight, Basic Sciences Division
Dr. Jeffrey McKnight, Basic Sciences Division Photo by Bo Jungmayer

Dr. Jeffrey McKnight, a research associate in the Basic Sciences Tsukiyama Lab, is the recent recipient of a three-year Fellow Award from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The $165,000 award will support McKnight's studies into understanding epigenetic changes associated with cellular quiescence, or dormancy, in yeast.

"The hope is that we will identify conserved regulatory factors contributing to the quiescent state, which could provide insight into therapeutic resistance of dormant leukemic stem cells," said McKnight, whose goal is to investigate basic biological processes underlying human health and disease.

As part of the growth cycle cells need to increase in size, copy their genetic material and divide. Certain cells can become dormant until outside factors such as injury or blood loss act as signals to stimulate growth. The ability of many cancers to persist in the presence of anticancer drugs may be attributed to an ability of the cancer cells to enter a dormant state.

While it is difficult to isolate and study pure populations of dormant cells in animals, recent techniques have allowed for such isolation of pure quiescent yeast cells. McKnight will use S. cerevisiae as a model organism for studying the epigenetic changes associated with cellular quiescence.

"We aim to determine the global processes occurring inside a yeast cell that are associated with the transition from cell growth to quiescence," McKnight said. Gaining insight into the inactive state in yeast will provide a better understanding of a key process implicated in cancer-cell survival and may lead to new therapeutic targets for cancer treatment.

"I am honored to be receiving this award from the LLS," McKnight said. "The funds are coming at a very crucial time and will hopefully provide some temporary stability for my development as a scientific investigator, allowing me to focus more on the proposed research and less about financial uncertainty.

"The thought of making contributions that could lead to a better understanding of leukemia makes the hard work and training worthwhile, and brings another layer of meaning to the work that I do each day."

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