New Innovator Award goes to cancer researcher Sohail Tavazoie

Sohail Tavazoie, Leon Hess Assistant Professor and head of Rockefeller University’s Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology, is one of this year’s recipients of the National Institutes of Health Director’s New Innovator Award. The prestigious five-year grant will fund Tavazoie’s work in elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer metastasis.

One of Rockefeller’s newest faculty recruits, Tavazoie is working to identify molecular biomarkers that will reveal two crucial traits of cancer cells. The vast majority of cancer deaths result from metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from the original tumor site to other parts and systems of the body. Chemotherapy treatments have proven effective at prolonging the lives of some patients with aggressive cancers, but another large subset of patients proves resistant to the remedy. The toll of chemotherapy, both to the community and the individual patient, is usually quite high and there exist no clinical parameters to distinguish between those who will benefit from it and those who will not, resulting in a large faction of patients receiving treatment that is not only expensive and painful but also ineffective.

Employing molecular, in vitro, in vivo and human clinical analyses of colorectal cancer — a particularly common and aggressive cancer — Tavazoie aims to identify small pieces of RNA, known as microRNAs, that may signal a high potential for metastasis or that can effectively distinguish between cancers that will be responsive to chemotherapy and those that would be better candidates for alternative and experimental therapies.

Tavazoie received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Following a residency and internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, he joined Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as a clinical fellow in 2005 and became a research fellow in medical oncology in 2006. He joined Rockefeller as Leon Hess Assistant Professor earlier this year. Tavazoie is a recipient of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Young Investigator Award and was named a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar and a Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research Scholar.

Established in 2007, the Director’s New Innovator Award program is designed to support unusually creative new investigators with highly innovative research ideas at an early stage of their career when they may lack the preliminary data required for NIH’s more traditional funding vehicles. To that end, applicants are judged on their creativity, the innovativeness of their research approaches and the potential of the project to have a significant impact on an important biomedical or behavioral research problem. Tavazoie is the first Rockefeller University faculty member to receive the New Innovator Award.

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