Youth Movement: Donor generosity supports talented junior investigators

February 3, 2017 | by City of Hope

Russell Rockne Russell Rockne, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences
On World Cancer Day, we celebrate the donor support that is such a critical part of the quest to cure cancer, enabling City of Hope physicians and scientists to develop their discoveries and translate them into cures for patients.
One important way donors can help City of Hope achieve its mission is through the Young Innovators Fund, which supports brilliant young scientists who, although being here only a short time, are already taking cancer research in exciting new directions.
One such innovator is Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine who uses nanotechnology to create more targeted cancer therapies. About the size of a virus, these nanoparticles could one day deliver medicine directly to tumors, eliminating the need for more toxic therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation.
“Our goal is to use targeted delivery to transform cancer therapy into a low-impact event,” Berlin said. “We are making new materials that show remarkable targeting to tumors while completely sparing nearby normal tissue.”
Berlin and his team are also working to develop a method for finding new drugs faster. Called the Next Generation Drug Discovery Project, it will allow researchers to evaluate as many as one billion molecules in a single afternoon.
“It currently takes drug companies a year to test a million molecules,” Berlin said. “If we succeed, we will be able to get new drugs from the lab to the patient much more quickly, which could save countless lives.”
Russell Rockne, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences, is another young innovator doing big things. He uses advanced mathematics to compute growth rates for tumors and to determine how well patients respond to certain therapies.
Rockne is also director of City of Hope’s new Mathematical Oncology Division, using MRI results to build mathematical models that show how cancer changes in space and time. By demonstrating a tumor’s growth rate, he can help oncologists predict how well it will respond to therapy. This prediction allows doctors to develop individualized therapies that have a real impact on patient outcomes.
“If I’m not impacting patients, I’m not interested,” said Rockne.
Then there’s Tijana Jovanovic-Talisman, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine who uses super-resolution microscopy to examine cells at the molecular level. With this technique, she can track the movement of cancer-causing proteins.
“With super-resolution microscopy, we can see how many proteins a cell has, how they move, what a particular drug does to that cell and which drug may be the best for a particular patient,” said Jovanovic-Talisman.
These young researchers are all on the leading-edge of a field in which advancements are happening at lightning speed. Their innovations are made possible largely through the generosity of our supporters. It is because of our donors that they – and all of City of Hope’s scientific and medical staff – have the freedom to explore novel ideas that one day might impact people all over the world.
Please support the Young Innovators Fund at City of Hope to help continue our legacy of innovation.
And remember, a portion of your generous contribution today may be matched up to $25,000 to help further our research and innovation. Visit or call 866.683.HOPE for more information.
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