Biologist Olena Vaske wins major grant from American Association for Cancer Research

The 2019 AACR NextGen Grant for Transformative Cancer Research will support Vaske's research on pediatric cancer genomics

Olena Morozova Vaske
Olena Morozova Vaske

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has awarded a prestigious 2019 NextGen Grant for Transformative Cancer Research to Olena Morozova Vaske, assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz.

The three-year, $450,000 grant will support Vaske's research on the use of genomic markers to guide treatment decisions for children with cancer. Vaske, who holds the Colligan Presidential Chair in Pediatric Genomics, said the project aims to increase the number of pediatric cancer patients who could benefit from targeted therapies.

Vaske's team has developed a novel RNA sequencing analysis that can reveal abnormally active genes in a patient's cancer cells. The researchers plan to identify highly expressed genes that could be targeted with drugs and study the biological effects of those genes. They will also evaluate whether the increased expression of these genes is predictive of how the cells respond to cancer-fighting drugs.

Another part of the project will use nanopore sequencing technology developed by UCSC biomolecular engineers David Deamer and Mark Akeson. Working with Akeson's lab, Vaske's team will use the technology to profile cancer cell lines and identify the genetic changes responsible for abnormal gene expression patterns.

The new project builds on work Vaske began as a cofounder of the Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative when she was a postdoctoral researcher in the UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute.

"Tumor gene expression analysis using RNA sequencing remains under-utilized clinically," Vaske said. "We hope to develop predictive biomarkers that can be incorporated into targeted treatment approaches for pediatric cancer patients."

The AACR NextGen Grants for Transformative Cancer Research represent the AACR’s flagship funding initiative to stimulate highly innovative research from young investigators. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the oldest and largest scientific organization focused on cancer research.