Trainees Win Young Investigators' Trans-network Award

Northwestern University Physical Sciences-Oncology Center (NU PS-OC) trainees Joo Sang Lee, Behnam Nabet, and Eliza Small, along with team member Subhayjyoti De of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute PS-OC, have won a one-year, $15,000 Young Investigators’ Trans-network Award from the National Cancer Institute.

The award supports the team’s innovative project “Identifying the impact of nuclear architecture in the regulation of metabolic pathways,” where they will investigate how genes involved in the regulation of metabolic pathways are spatially distributed in the cell nucleus and how this distribution is altered in cancer cells compared to their normal counterparts. The collaboration brings together both computational biologists and cancer biologists from the two centers.

“This project is a mosaic of orthogonal approaches mastered in three very diverse labs in the two PS-OCs, said Joo Sang Lee, project leader. “It not only brings together computational biologists and experimental cancer biologists, but it also integrates the studies on cancer genomics and epigenetics with those on cancer metabolism.”

The team formulated their proposal over the course of the 4-day Annual PS-OC Network Investigators’ Meeting in April of this year. Selected proposals were submitted by each center for review by the PS-OC Steering Committee, who evaluated proposals on their innovative physical sciences perspective, relevance to major cancer issues, and trans-network collaboration.

Trainees Lee and De will use their computational biology and mathematical modeling expertise to computationally analyze the human metabolic network model and genomic proximity data to identify how the genes encoding enzymes for the metabolic pathways are distributed in the three dimensional genomic packaging. This analysis will allow cancer biologists Nabet and Small to test predictions on the altered proximity of a set of enzyme-coding genes responsible for deregulation of metabolic pathways in cancer.

“I am very excited that the NCI recognized our efforts to bring together computational biologists and cancer biologists within the PS-OCs. By combining these disciplines to work on a common goal, we will model the disease, ask new questions, and then directly test them in the lab,” said Nabet. By identifying the key differences in cancer cells, the team hopes to elucidate the role of chromatin organization in the deregulated metabolism seen in cancer.

Lee and his team are grateful not only for the award, but also of the experience in developing the proposal. “I had the opportunity to sharpen my skills through all the steps of the process, such as organizing a competitive and interdisciplinary team of fellow young investigators, designing a creative and at the same time feasible research project, and writing a clear and strong research proposal,” Lee said. “With this exceptional collaboration, I am confident our team will be able to unveil strategies used by cancer cells to control their metabolism through alterations in their nuclear architecture.”