Rockefeller University graduate student Teresa Davoli, who will receive her degree this June, has been given a Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award, one of the country’s most prestigious graduate student prizes. Davoli has been a member of Titia de Lange’s Laboratory of Cell Biology and Genetics. The Weintraub Awards, administered by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, recognize quality, originality and significance of thesis research; Davoli is one of 13 recipients this year.
Davoli, a native of Italy, studied a new mechanism of tetraploidization that is induced by dysfunctional telomeres. Telomeres are structures that cap and protect the ends of chromosomes. When they fail, the result is a series of chromosomal aberrations that can contribute to cancer development.
One such aberration, an erroneous duplication of chromosomes known as tetraploidization, can, if allowed to occur, promote the formation of tumors. Davoli has found that the natural shortening of telomeres, which occurs in human cells after extensive proliferation, renders the cells vulnerable to tetraploidization. In addition, she has worked to develop a method to detect and quantify telomeric fusions from the DNA of human tumors, which would make it possible to identify tumors which underwent a telomere crisis during their natural history. This work suggests a new path for the development of chromosome number aberrations in cancer and may contribute to new cancer treatments that target specific vulnerabilities of tumor cells.
Davoli earned her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Pisa and a master’s in medical biotechnology from the San Raffaele University in Milan. She enrolled in Rockefeller’s graduate program in 2006 and was awarded the university’s David Rockefeller Fellowship in 2010. She will graduate in 2013 and continue her research as a postdoc at Harvard Medical School.
The Weintraub Award was established in 2000 and honors the late Harold M. Weintraub, a founding member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s basic sciences division who died from brain cancer in 1995, at the age of 49. Weintraub was an international leader in the field of molecular biology who, among other contributions, identified genes responsible for cell differentiation.
The award recipients will participate in a scientific symposium at the Hutchinson Center in Seattle in May, and will receive an honorarium from the Weintraub and Groudine Fund, established to foster intellectual exchange through the promotion of programs for graduate students, fellows and visiting scholars.
Davoli is the eighth Rockefeller student to receive this prestigious award in the last 10 years. Past recipients are Johannes Scheid, Nadya Dimitrova, Sung Hee Ahn-Upton, Vanessa Ruta, Paul Cohen, Karina Del Punta and Agata Smogorzewska; an additional recipient, Gabriel Victora, was a visiting student.