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Research Shows that Cell Division and Invasion are Separate Actions in Cancer Process Stony Brook scientists receive Damon Runyon Award for innovative finding

matus lab
David Matus (seated) and Benjamin Martin view a zebrafish model to understand cancer metastasis.

Stony Brook, NY, January 13, 2017 – Hallmarks of cancer progression are uncontrolled proliferation (division) of cancer cells and invasive behavior, leading to the spread of tumor cells throughout the body. Now two Stony Brook University cell biologists, David Matus, PhD, and Benjamin Martin, PhD, have discovered that cell division and invasion are mutually exclusive behaviors. For this novel finding, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has awarded the researchers with the 2017 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award and a two-year grant of $300,000, followed by another renewable grant of $300,000 for an additional two years to further advance their work.

“Cells can’t divide and invade at the same time, and most cancer drugs attack tumor overproliferation,” said Dr. Matus, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. “Therefore, we hope our laboratory findings become a key foundation to better understanding the metastatic process in order to design new drugs that attack cancer cells by their mutually exclusive behaviors.”

Drs. Matus and Martin, also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, developed a joint project where they found in the model roundworm, C. elegans, that cell invasion and cell division are mutually exclusive behaviors. This functional link between cell cycle arrest and invasive behavior has not been directly made before, although in a variety of cancers there exists correlative data suggesting that tumor cells become less proliferative during invasion.

Cell invasive behavior occurs during normal embryonic development, immune surveillance, and is dysregulated during metastatic cancer progression. In their ongoing research, the team will leverage their expertise in the strengths of two model systems, C. elegans and the zebrafish, D. rerio, to identify how regulation of the cell cycle intersects with acquisition of cell invasive behavior. As the genetic machinery that regulates the cell cycle is deeply conserved across evolution, insights gained by studying invasive behavior during nematode and fish development will be directly tested in a zebrafish xenograft model. Together, they will examine and manipulate the cell cycle state of human cancer cells during metastasis, visualizing invasive behavior at high resolution using light sheet microscopy.

In recognizing the potential of Drs. Matus and Martin’s work, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation stated that “insights from their work will have profound implications in future design of therapeutics to eradicate invasive cells that may escape traditional chemotherapeutic agents that only target actively dividing cells.”

About the Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award

The award is given each year to provide support for the next generation of exceptionally creative thinkers with “high-risk/high-reward” ideas that have the potential to significantly impact the understanding of and/or approaches to the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of cancer.

The awardees are all early career scientists and selected through a highly competitive and rigorous process by a scientific committee comprised of leading cancer researchers who are innovators themselves. According to the Foundation, only those scientists with a clear vision and passion for curing cancer are selected to receive the prestigious award. In 2017, four innovative scientists nationally received the award. For more on this year’s winners see this news from Damon Runyon.

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About Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 25,700 students, 2,500 faculty members, and 20 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S.News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.

Greg Filiano
Media Relations Manager, School of Medicine, Stony Brook University
Office: 631.444.9343
gregory.filiano@stonybrookmedicine.edu