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Nghiem Lab Research Team Awarded Grant for Merkel Cell Carcinoma Research

October 22, 2021
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Congratulations to several members of the Nghiem Lab Research Team whose recent proposal was selected to receive $20,000 in award funding through Seattle Translational Tumor Research (STTR), to support their innovative Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) research project.

(row 1) Rashmi Bhakuni, PhD, Peter Goff, MD, PhD (row 2) Carina D. Morningstar, BS, Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD

The STTR group fosters and promotes collaboration and a strong sense of community among Seattle’s cancer investigators. Located in Seattle, the STTR group is comprised of investigators from four leading Northwest institutions — Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research CenterUW MedicineSeattle Cancer Care Alliance and the Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The research team includes Rashmi Bhakuni, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the UW Division of Dermatology, Peter Goff, MD, PhD, Resident for the Department of Radiation Oncology, Carina D. Morningstar, BS, Research Scientist in the UW Division of Dermatology, and Paul Nghiem, Professor and Head of the UW Division of Dermatology.

The team’s research project titled, “Patient-derived models of Merkel cell carcinoma for therapeutic mechanistic studies,” will receive funding through the STTR’s Patient-Derived Xenograft (PDX) Annotation Support Grant, from Nov. 2021 to Oct. 2022. The grant will cover costs associated with generating and analyzing experimental systems for mouse tumors.

The research project focuses on “ATR inhibitors.” ATR is a protein that ensures DNA is completely copied before a cell divides, failure of which results in cell death. Exciting laboratory studies have shown that ATR inhibitors (ATRi) not only restrict the growth of tumor cells, but may also increase the visibility of dying tumor cells to the immune system. The research team hopes to study the effects of ATRi’s on MCC, a rare but lethal skin cancer, by utilizing patient tumor-engrafted mice models. These studies will generate useful tools to inform the design of a clinical trial of an ATRi for patients with MCC resistant to immunotherapy drugs, a condition for which there are no approved therapies.

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