Nora Pencheva, a graduate fellow in Sohail Tavazoie’s Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology, will receive a Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award, one of the country’s most prestigious graduate student prizes. The award is given by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and recognizes outstanding achievement during graduate studies in the biological sciences.
Pencheva, a native of Bulgaria, joined Rockefeller in 2009. Her thesis project explores the molecular biology of metastatic melanoma — the most deadly type of skin cancer. Looking for novel regulatory pathways involved in the cancer, Pencheva has identified three microRNAs that promote metastasis in several types of melanoma by enhancing the invasive capacity of melanoma cells and the cells’ ability to recruit neighboring endothelial cells into the metastatic process. Pencheva has found that the expression levels of these microRNAs could act as prognostic biomarkers in melanoma by determining if patients were at high risk for relapse. Pencheva has also found that one of the microRNA targets, apolipoprotein E (ApoE), is a potent suppressor of melanoma metastasis and that LXRβ, a transcriptional activator of ApoE, could be a viable target for treatment.
Pencheva earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Kenyon College in Ohio, and will graduate from Rockefeller with her Ph.D. in molecular biology in June. She is also the recipient of an Anderson Center for Cancer Research Fellowship.
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 symposium will take place in May at the Hutchinson Center in Seattle, where the recipients will participate in a scientific symposium and 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. Pencheva is one of 13 recipients this year.
Pencheva is the ninth Rockefeller student to receive the Weintraub award. Past recipients are Teresa Davoli, 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.