October 4, 2014 | by Darrin Joy
Cancer cells are masters of survival. Despite excessive damage to their most basic workings and the constant vigilance of the body’s immune system, they manage to persevere.
Much of this extraordinary ability to survive falls under the control of proteins bearing the name STAT, short for signal transducer and activator of transcription. Prominent among these is STAT3. This protein helps shield tumor cells from the immune system. It also shuts down apoptosis, the process that normally forces sick cells to die, and it can help cancers spread through the body.
Hua Yu, Ph.D., the Billy and Audrey L Wilder Professor in Tumor Immmunotherapy and chair of the Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology at City of Hope, has made STAT3 the focus of much of her research. The first scientist to show for certain that STAT3 could be a molecular target for cancer therapy in animal models of the disease, she is widely regarded as a leader in the field, with numerous breakthrough discoveries surrounding the protein. That global leadership position recently received further affirmation when the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation elected her to receive the Humboldt Research Award.
Granted to “academics, whose fundamental discoveries, new theories, or insights have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future,” the award recognizes the entirety of a researcher’s career achievements. The honor includes an invitation to spend up to a year collaborating with researchers in Germany on a long-term project.
Yu has been partnering with Thomas Blankenstein, Ph.D., of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine Berlin-Buch, for several years. Blankenstein spent several months as a visiting professor at City of Hope. Yu will reciprocate and spend time in Berlin to test new treatments based on her STAT3 research that target virus-induced liver cancer.
“It’s an honor to be recognized with the Humboldt Award,” Yu said. “The ongoing research on STAT3 could make a real difference for patients, and I’m looking forward to spending time working in Berlin with Professor Blankenstein and his colleagues.”
Learn more about cancer research at City of Hope.