These last few days here in Stockholm have been this incredible whirlwind; one amazing opportunity and event after another. I look around and wonder whose life this is that I’ve stumbled into, because it certainly doesn’t look anything like mine. I feel just so incredibly honoured.
Allison Cleary – 2015 Grand Prize winner
The publicity of the prize and the resulting networking opportunities are providing a foot in the door to set up new collaborations. People in the field know who I am now – rather than just seeing a paper here and there, they see a compilation of what I am interested in and how I address those questions.
Daniel Streicker – 2013 Grand Prize winner
Award Coverage: Young Scientist Prize Winners
Click on articles below to read research summaries and interviews from previous Grand Prize winners:
Grand Prize Winner – Dr. Allison Cleary
Prize category: Cell and Molecular Biology
Essay: Teamwork: The tumor cell edition
Allison Cleary is originally from Denver, Colorado, and completed her undergraduate degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado where she was first introduced to basic science research. From there, she continued her studies at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in their combined M.D., Ph.D. program. While at Penn State, she was fortunate to complete her Ph.D. thesis research in the laboratory of Dr. Edward Gunther, studying mammary gland physiology and breast cancer. Cleary is currently finishing up her M.D. degree and is in the process of applying to Pathology Residency Training Programs on the Physician-Investigator Track. She hopes to be able to continue her work in breast cancer and tumor heterogeneity during this next phase in her training.
Cancer genome sequencing efforts have demonstrated that there are often multiple, genetically distinct subpopulations of tumor cells coexisting within individual breast cancers.My graduate thesis research project sought to investigate whether this heterogeneity serves a functional role in tumor maintenance and progression. After developing methods to isolate genetically distinct subpopulations of tumor cells from mouse breast tumors, we were able to assess the tumorigenic contributions of these tumor cell populations in isolation and in combination. We found that some tumors do indeed depend upon a cooperative interaction between the cell subpopulations for tumor maintenance – a single population, acting alone, was incapable of driving tumor growth. These results raise interesting questions about the nature of tumor progression, and may ultimately have implications in the development of new cancer therapies.
Category winner – Dr. Ludmil Alexandrov
Prize Category: Genomics and Proteomics
Essay: Understanding the origins of human cancer
Ludmil Alexandrov is an Oppenheimer Fellow in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Neumont University and received his M.Phil. in Computational Biology as well as his Ph.D. in Cancer Genetics from the University of Cambridge. Alexandrov is a recipient of the 2015 Weintraub Award for Graduate Research and, in 2013, he was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “30 brightest stars under the age of 30” in the field of science and healthcare. Alexandrov’s work is focused on understanding the mutational processes responsible for human cancer and human aging. In 2015, his research was highlighted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology as an important step forward in the fight against cancer.
Cancer is the most common human genetic disease. All can- cers begin with a single cell that starts to behave abnormally due to changes in its genetic material. These genetic changes are known as DNA somatic mutations and are due to the activity of different mutational processes. Different mutational processes leave characteristic molecular fingerprints on the DNA of a cancer cell, known as “mutational signatures.” Here, the DNA sequences of more than 12,000 cancer patients were examined to create the first comprehensive map of the signatures of the mutational processes that cause human cancer. In total, more than 30 distinct mutational signatures were discovered, many of which were previously unknown. This work reveals the diversity of mutational processes under- lying the development of cancer and paves the way towards developing novel cancer prevention strategies.
Category winner – Dr. Johannes Scheid
Prize Category: Translational Medicine
Essay: HIV-specific B cell response in patients with broadly neutralizing serum activity
Growing up in New York and Germany in a family of scientists, Johannes Scheid was fascinated early in life by the career of a physician scientist. During medical school at the Charité Berlin, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. at The Rockefeller University. In his Ph.D., he investigated the observation that some HIV patients develop very potent antibodies against HIV. The Ph.D. was awarded the 2012 Harold Weintraub award. His work in the laboratory was inspired by interactions with our study participants and he was excited to see some of his work now go into clinical trials. After completing medical school and his Ph.D., he worked for one year as a Clinical Scholar at The Rockefeller University and is now continuing his clinical training at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Transmission of HIV continues at staggering rates in many areas of the world. Despite intense research, an effective HIV vaccine remains elusive. A fraction of HIV-infected individuals mounts an antibody response that can neutralize a broad spectrum of HIV-1 isolates. Until recently, very little was known about the composition of these serum antibody responses. By characterizing this type of activity we were able to isolate several monoclonal antibodies with more broad and potent activity against HIV than any of the previously described antibodies. Some of these are effective in preventing and suppressing HIV infection in animals, and one of the antibodies is currently being investigated in human clinical trials.
Category winner – Dr. Adam Ford
Prize Category: Ecology and Environment
Essay: The mechanistic pathways of trophic interactions in human-occupied landscapes
Adam Ford is a wildlife ecologist interested in how predator-prey interactions are shaped by human-modified landscapes. He received a B.Sc. from the University of Victoria (British Columbia), a M.Sc. from Carleton University (Ontario), and his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia with Assistant Professor Jacob Goheen. Ford is currently a Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Science, based at the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Guelph (Ontario). The research described in his essay sheds new light on the relationships of people, large carnivores, their herbivore prey, and plants in an East African savanna.
My dissertation research in Kenya used a series of experiments, satellite imagery, and GPS tracking to understand the complex relationships between large carnivores, their antelope prey, and trees. I found that impala’s fear of predators changed where different species of trees grew on the landscape. Thorny trees were most abundant in safe areas, while less-thorny trees were most abundant in risky areas. I also found that the population recovery of African wild dogs changed prey behaviour and population size but this did not extend to the plant community as theory would have predicted. This work highlights how food webs interact with human activity and the intense environmental variation that characterizes African savannas.