Nicholas C. DeVito, MD, fellow in Hematology-Oncology, has received one of five Physician-Scientist Training Awards from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.
The awards went to five scientists with novel approaches to fighting cancer, who were selected through a highly competitive and rigorous process by a scientific committee comprised of leading cancer researchers who are themselves physician-scientists. Only those scientists showing exceptional promise and a passion for finding new cures for cancer were selected to receive the award.
Dr. DeVito's research will examine certain tumor signaling pathways that have been implicated in driving Wnt5a (protein) production and facilitating cancer spreading by suppressing dendritic cell function within nearby draining lymph node tissues, which are critical for generating immune responses capable of destroying developing cancers. These studies will further investigate the ability of Wnt5a inhibition to sensitize cancers that are typically resistant to immunotherapy strategies.
In addition, DeVito and his mentor, Brent Hanks, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine (Medical Oncology), are conducting a clinical trial to determine if the activation of these pathways correlates with immunotherapy failure in melanoma patients. He anticipates that this research will lead to the discovery of novel, more effective immunotherapy strategies, and may identify biomarkers that will improve selection of tailored immunotherapies for specific cancer patients.
"The Damon Runyon Physician-Scientist award grants MDs the ability to engage in basic and translational research and to build a strong foundation toward becoming independent investigators, bringing scientific discoveries from bench to bedside," DeVito said. "I am grateful and excited for the opportunity to advance our understanding of how cancers evade our immune system during metastasis, with the goal of translating our findings into improved outcomes for patients."
The aim of the training award is to help increase the number of physician-scientists. The Damon-Runyon Physician-Scientist Training Award provides physicians who have earned an MD degree and completed clinical specialty fellowship training the opportunity to gain the research skills and experience they need to become leaders in translational and clinical research. The program was launched in 2015.
Damon Runyon seeks to address the financial disincentives that often deter physicians from pursuing a research career by providing considerably higher funding than most research fellowships—$100,000 in the first year, with increases of $10,000 per year over the next three years. It will also retire up to $100,000 of any medical school debt still owed by an award recipient. (The average medical school debt is now more than $150,000.)