PHILADELPHIA — Kathryn E. Wellen, PhD, assistant professor of Cancer Biology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, is among the 22 researchers named Pew Scholars in the Biomedical Sciences by The Pew Charitable Trusts this week. The Scholars join a prestigious community that includes Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows, and recipients of the Albert Lasker Medical Research Award.
"I feel incredibly honored to have been selected as a Pew Scholar," says Wellen. "Having this support from Pew will have a real impact in enabling me to move my research forward."
"Dr. Wellen is a gifted scientist studying cellular processes critical to the development of human cancers and to normal tissue function," says Lewis A. Chodosh, MD, PhD, chairman of the Department of Cancer Biology. "Katy exemplifies the very best that Penn has to offer and we look forward to nurturing this next key phase of her career."
Wellen received a doctorate in biological sciences from Harvard University's School of Public Health working on the immune system and metabolism with 1997 Pew Scholar Dr. Gokhan Hotamisligil. Her postdoctoral research was conducted in the lab of Dr. Craig Thompson at Penn, when in 2011, she joined the faculty of the Department of Cancer Biology.
Dr. Wellen explores the molecular link between metabolism and cancer. Cancer cells import and burn through nutrients more rapidly than their normal counterparts. They also display radically altered patterns of gene activity. Based on her previous work, Wellen thinks that these characteristics may be linked.
As a postdoctoral fellow, she discovered that in cancer cells, the availability of the metabolite acetyl CoA dictates the extent to which a cell will modify its chromosomes, thereby influencing the activity of surrounding genes.
Dr. Wellen proposes to further explore the role that acetyl CoA plays in regulating gene activity in both cancer and diabetes using in genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology. She will determine how acetyl CoA influences chromosome modification and will establish whether acetyl CoA can promote cancer cell proliferation through these modifications. Her work promises to provide important insights into the role of metabolism in cancer and diabetes, and could generate new therapeutic targets for these diseases.
"This funding comes at points in the Scholars' professional lives when they often are the most innovative," notes Rebecca W. Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. "While this program is a bold investment for us, it has paid incalculable dividends due to our Scholars' record of producing groundbreaking research."
Giving young scientists the means and the confidence to pursue outside-the-box research is vital to the advancement of biomedical science," said Craig C. Mello, Ph.D., a 1995 Pew Scholar and a 2006 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine. "The Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences was a critical step in my career, and as Chair of the advisory committee, I am honored to welcome the 2012 awardees into a family of scientists eager to share ideas and to collaborate for years to come."
The new class of scholars is exploring a range of human health issues from antibiotic-resistant infections to liver disease and cancer. Launched in 1985, the Pew Scholars Program in the Biomedical Sciences identifies and invests in talented researchers in medicine or biomedical sciences. In that time, over 500 Pew Scholars have received more than $130 million in funding. By backing them early in their careers, this program enables our most promising scientists to take calculated risks and follow unanticipated leads to advance human health.
The new 2012 Pew Scholars can be found here: directory.pewscholars.org