BOSTON AND NEW YORK - The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation announced today that Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center researcher John Rinn, PhD, has been awarded a 2009 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award. The three-year $450,000 prize is made to early-career researchers who are using "novel approaches to fighting cancer."
Rinn, who is also a member of the faculty at the Broad Institute in Cambridge and Assistant Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School is one of three investigators selected from nearly 300 applicants nationwide.
"We're thrilled with the caliber of the people and the proposals received this year," noted Andy Rachleff, who together with his wife Debbie partnered with the Damon Runyon Foundation to create the Innovation Award in 2007. "A large number of investigators submitted applications that proposed to take significant risks in order to achieve breakthroughs in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. As a venture capitalist, I look for visionaries with daring ideas. It is exciting to see these qualities in all of the winning proposals."
Adds Lorraine Egan, Executive Director of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, "Most research funded today is safe and incremental. For large breakthroughs, we need to take risks. We're delighted to once again be funding such innovative ideas."
Rinn's work focuses on a class of molecule known as lincRNAs, an acronym for large intergenic non-coding RNAs. Based on earlier research that identified the first lincRNA - a molecule called HOTAIR that plays a major role is establishing the distinct identities of skin cells -- Rinn proposes to further decipher the workings of these molecules, believing that they may have an important role in tumor function.
"LincRNAs could herald a new paradigm in our understanding of cellular transformation, including how cancerous cells metastasize," says Rinn. "Defining the roles of these RNA molecules in cancer could open up new avenues for better diagnostics and therapeutics. If we can crack the 'code' of how lincRNAs establish normal states, we can understand what goes wrong in cancers. We could then engineer these RNA molecules to target and silence cancer genes, thus restoring the genome back to its proper identity."
"John Rinn's work pushes the scientific envelope," adds BIDMC Chairman of Pathology Jeffrey Saffitz, MD, PhD. "His innovative ideas and willingness to challenge traditional scientific thinking are translating into key discoveries, many of which have been developed through novel experimental methods. He truly encompasses a spirit of risk-taking and innovation."
After completing his undergraduate work in chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Rinn received a doctorate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the AAAS Biovision Fellowship, the McDougal Fellowship and the Damon Runyon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship. Prior to joining BIDMC and the Broad Institute, Rinn was a member of the Howard Chang laboratory at Stanford University.
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks in the top four in National Institutes of Health funding among independent hospitals nationwide. BIDMC is clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and is a research partner of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. For more information, visit www.bidmc.harvard.edu.