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UMMS scholar receives Young Investigator Award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

UMass Medical School Communications

November 25, 2014
  John A. Pulikkan, PhD, a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Lucio H. Castilla, PhD, associate professor in the Program in Gene Function & Expression, received a Young Investigator Award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer.
  John A. Pulikkan, PhD

John A. Pulikkan, PhD, a postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Lucio H. Castilla, PhD, associate professor in the Program in Gene Function & Expression, received a Young Investigator Award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. The award provides $100,000 in funding to young investigators with outstanding promise who are doing cancer research relevant to new treatments and cures for pediatric cancers. Dr. Pulikkan is one of 22 researchers to receive the award this year.

“I am thrilled and honored to receive the Young Investigator Award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation,” said Pulikkan.

Pulikkan studies how mutations in the DNA of blood cells direct leukemia formation. Specifically, he works in the development of a novel molecule that inhibits the expansion of acute myeloid leukemia cells with mutations in the core binding factor (CBF) beta gene.

“Understanding how the molecular changes in hematopoietic progenitor cell direct leukemia transformation has allowed us to develop small molecules that inhibit the function of CBFB-MYH11 oncoprotein by inhibiting its interaction with RUNX1, a CBF member,” he said. “Importantly, this inhibitor specifically kills the leukemic cells without affecting normal cells. Historically, targeting protein-protein interaction in cancer therapy has been difficult. By using novel approaches we show proof-of-principle that protein-protein interaction can be directly targeted by small molecule inhibitors for cancer treatment.”

The Young Investigator Award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation encourages early-career scientists to advance pediatric cancer research by providing crucial support at the end of their fellowship training.

“Funding from the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation will enable me to continue my research in elucidating the mechanism of action of core binding factor oncoproteins, and to test the efficacy of candidate targeted therapies in humanized mouse models. Also, this award is important because it will strengthen my ability to become an independent investigator in cancer research,” said Pulikkan.

Pulikkan received his PhD from the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich in 2008. In 2006 he was awarded a research fellowship from Jose Carreras Leukemia Foundation in Germany. He joined UMass Medical School in 2010 to pursue his postdoctoral training. Pulikkan received the Scholar Award from American Society of Hematology in 2012.

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