August 11, 2016

Gerstner Family Career Development Awards Support Future Leaders in Precision Medicine Research

By Sharon Rosen

At the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, our mission is to discover and integrate the latest in genomic, molecular and clinical sciences into personalized care for patients.

We ensure that this mission will be carried forward by future researchers by supporting young investigators, who bring new ideas and skills to this critical effort.

The Gerstner Family Foundation established the Gerstner Family Career Development Awards in Individualized Medicine, so that early career investigators receive important seed money to conduct research to predict, prevent, treat and cure disease using individualized medicine approaches.

The award recipients are already making an impact by developing individualized treatments for many diseases, such as breast cancer, melanoma, and Alzheimer’s disease.

2016 recipients explore precision medicine approaches for breast cancer and melanoma

2016 Gerstner Family Career Development award recipients are Nadine Norton, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cancer Biology at the Mayo Clinic campus in Florida, and Alexander Meves, M.D., assistant professor of Dermatology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Dr. Nadine Norton

Dr. Nadine Norton

Dr. Norton is conducting research to identify genes and genetic variants that predict which patients will experience potentially life threatening cardiovascular side effects during cancer treatment. Her research focuses primarily on patients with human epidermal receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease. These patients receive a combination of chemotherapy and trastuzumab, an anti-HER2 therapy, which is potentially lifesaving but can lead to serious cardiac problems including heart failure or reduced heart function.

“A significant number of patients who undergo this treatment, especially those 65 years of age and older, have to stop cancer treatment because of cardiac problems,” says Dr. Norton. “The Gerstner award will fund research to identify which genetic variants predict cardiac problems with this treatment, enabling us to choose alternative treatments for those patients at risk for heart problems.

Dr. Norton and her team are evaluating patients’ heart health using a novel approach.

“Normally, this type of research would require taking a biopsy, a sample of tissue, from a patient’s heart. However, our novel approach avoids this invasive surgical procedure. Instead, we are evaluating an individual’s heart health by examining DNA from a patient’s blood sample, which provides a window into genetic activity taking place in the heart,” says Dr. Norton.

Dr. Alexander Meves

Dr. Alexander Meves

Dr. Meves’ research focuses on melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, and identifying those patients at risk for developing metastatic melanoma, a life-threatening condition in which the disease spreads to other areas of the body. Patients with metastatic melanoma need aggressive therapy, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as well as regular monitoring with blood samples and imaging studies such as CT scans.

However, most melanoma does not spread to other areas of the body and not all melanoma needs aggressive treatment. Using currently available diagnostic tools, it is difficult to distinguish between lethal melanoma that needs treating, and non-lethal melanoma that does not.

As Dr. Meves explains, “Over-diagnosis leads to unnecessary treatment and avoidable side effects. For example, 80 to 95 percent of melanoma patients undergo unnecessary lymph node surgery based on current diagnostic criteria. The Gerstner Family Career Development Award will help us translate lab-developed methods into clinical care that are designed to help physicians distinguish between lethal and non-lethal melanoma. Specifically, we will analyze patients’ blood and tissue samples and find genetic predictors for which cancers will spread and which will not. These predictors will help us select patients who need invasive surgeries and other treatments.”

Update on 2015 Gerstner Family Award recipient makes strides in Alzheimer’s disease research

Dr. Melissa Murray

Melissa Murray, Ph.D., assistant professor of Neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic campus in Florida, has shown the impact the Gerstner Awards can have on advancing medical research. As one of the 2015 recipients of the Gerstner Family Career Development Award, Dr. Murray is focusing her research efforts on neurocognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study partially supported by the award, Dr. Murray and her colleagues concluded that a high number of men are not accurately diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during their lifetimes.

“While it is well accepted that age is the strongest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, there is an enormous need to understand interacting factors that contribute to the development of the disease,” says Dr. Murray.

Researchers concluded that additional factors, such as gender, age, education and family history need to be considered in order to improve the diagnostic process and offer earlier intervention for patient with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Murray presented the study findings at the 2016 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Toronto.

In addition to funding provided by the the Gerstner Family Career Development Award, Dr. Murray also received funding for the study from the Florida Department of Health, Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program.

Join us to learn more about precision medicine

Hear experts discuss the latest research in precision medicine and how it can be applied to improve treatments for many conditions at Individualizing Medicine 2016: Advancing Care Through Genomics. The Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, is hosting the fifth annual genomics conference, October 5–6, in Rochester, Minn.

  • For a complete schedule and list of speakers, visit the conference website.
  • You may also learn more about the conference on the video blog series, “Story by Story.”
  • Follow the latest news related to the conference on the Center for Individualized Medicine blogFacebookor Twitter at @MayoClinicCIM and use the hashtag #CIMCon16.

The Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine is hosting the conference with support from the Satter Foundation.

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Tags: #Dr. Alexander Meves, #Dr. Nadine Norton, #Gerstner Family Career Development Award, #HER2-positive breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, center for individualized medicine, Dr. Melissa Murray, Gerstner Family Foundation, mayo clinic, Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, Melanoma, Uncategorized

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