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Bruce Stillman

From left, CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman, CSHL Board of Trustees Chair Marilyn Simons, and 2022 Double Helix Medal recipients Albert Bourla and Jennifer A. Doudna. Photo by Sean Zanni / Patrick McMullan Company

By Daniel Dunaief

One of them helped tap into a process bacteria use to fight off viruses to develop a gene editing technique that has the potential to fight diseases and improve agriculture. The other oversaw the development of a vaccine at a record-breaking pace to combat Covid-19.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory honored both of them at its 17th annual Double Helix Medal Dinner at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC on Nov. 9.

The lab celebrated Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 for her co-discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system and Pfizer Chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla, who helped spearhead the development of an RNA-based vaccine.

The black-tie optional award dinner, hosted by television journalist Lesley Stahl, raised a record $5.8 million for research at the famed lab.

“We are giving hope to people, hope for science — and that’s something that gives us a lot of pride,” Dr. Bourla said in a statement.

Dr. Doudna, who is Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, was encouraged by the transformative nature of gene editing.

“When I think about new therapeutics that are only possible using CRISPR technology, I’m thinking about ways that we can not just treat a genetic disorder chronically, but can provide a one-and-done cure,” she said in a statement.

The awards dinner has raised over $50 million since its inception. Pfizer underwrote the entire event last week.

Attendees included previous award winners Drs. Marilyn and James Simons, who founded Renaissance Technologies, actress Susan Lucci, who starred on All My Children for 41 years, Representative Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) and his wife Helene, David Boies, Chairman and Managing Partner of the law firm Boies, Schiller Flexner, and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, photographer and widow of tennis legend Arthur Ashe, among other business and philanthropic luminaries.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory will incorporate the funds raised through the dinner into its operating budget, which supports integrated research and education in fields including neuroscience, artificial intelligence, quantitative biology, plant biology, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The funding from the dinner helps CSHL scientists engage in high-risk, high-reward research that can lead to important discoveries, CSHL said in a statement.

“Rather than relying entirely on the grant system, [scientists] are given the freedom to further explore the future implications of their work,” CSHL added.

Philanthropy also helps CSHL expand its Meetings & Courses program. The operating budget supports community engagement and environmental stewardship on Long Island.

Senior leadership at the lab chooses the honorees each year.

This year’s dinner surpassed the $5 million raised last year, which honored baseball Hall-of-Farmer Reggie Jackson, as well as Leonard Schleifer and George Yancopoulos, the founders of Regeneron, the pharmaceutical company that provided life-saving antibody treatment for Covid-19.

Other previous honorees included actor Michael J. Fox, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actor and science educator Alan Alda, and newscasters Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric.

The chairs of the Double Helix medal dinner included Jamie Nicholls and O. Francis Biondi, Barbara Amonson and Vincent Della Pietra, Drs. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra and Stephen Della Pietra, Mr. and Mrs. John Desmarais, Elizabeth McCaul and Francis Ingrassia, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Kelter, Dr. and Mrs. Tomislav Kundic, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lindsay, Ivana Stolnik-Lourie and Dr. Robert Lourie, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Morgan, and Marilyn and James Simons.

By Daniel Dunaief

This November, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory celebrated baseball’s Mr. October.

The research facility that specializes in studying cancer, neuroscience, quantitative and plant biology hosted its 16th annual Double Helix Medals dinner at the Museum of Natural History on Nov. 17.

The evening, which was emceed by television journalist Lesley Stahl, honored Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson, as well as Leonard Schleifer and George Yancopoulos, the founders of Regeneron, the pharmaceutical company that has provided a life-saving antibody treatment for COVID-19.

The evening, which featured a dinner beneath the blue whale at the museum, raised a record $5 million for research.

“When we were standing in the hall of dinosaurs at the museum, it was fantastic,” said CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman. “It was one of the first events where people went out like the old days” prior to the pandemic.

Stillman said guests had to have received their COVID vaccinations to attend the celebration.

In addition to establishing a career as a clutch hitter in the playoffs, Reggie Jackson has dedicated considerable energy through his Mr. October Foundation to improve education around the country.

“His Mr. October foundation complements and parallels the DNA Learning Center programs, particularly now that we’ve opened a large DNA Learning Center in downtown Brooklyn that is serving underserved students in lab-based science,” said Stillman.

In his acceptance speech, Jackson said he found it “significant” that he received an honor for his educational efforts off the baseball field.

Yancopoulos, meanwhile, described his roots as the son of first generation immigrant parents from Greece. Yancopoulos highlighted the need for more funding in research and suggested that science helped pull the world through the pandemic. Yancopoulos said the National Institutes of Health should increase its budget 10-fold to meet the research and clinical needs of the population.

“Biotechnology offers the promise of really solving some of the most difficult problems that we face if we want our citizens to live not only longer, but healthier lives,” Schleifer said in a statement.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams, meanwhile, gave a speech about his vision for the future of the city which included, after some prompting from Stillman, increasing science in the education system.

The Double Helix gala, which started in 2006 when the lab honored the late boxer Muhammed Ali, raises money that goes into CSHL’s operating budget to support research and education.

This year, the donations included a generous gift from Astros owner Jim Crane, who introduced his friend Jackson.

Stillman helps direct the funds raised through the dinner to support scientists who are making what he termed “breakthrough discoveries.”

Many of the most significant discoveries come through philanthropic support, Stillman said, which makes it possible for researchers to design high-risk, high-reward experiments.

CSHL Chair of the Board of Trustees Dr. Marilyn Simons, a previous winner, attended the festive evening.

Senior leadership at the lab chooses the honorees. Stillman said CSHL already has two honorees for the event next year.

Previous honorees include actor Michael J. Fox, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actor and science educator Alan Alda, and newscasters including Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric.

“It is a really spectacular list,” Stillman said. The winners, who receive a medal, have all contributed in some significant way to science or to science education.

The dinner provides an opportunity for supporters of the mission of CSHL, which has had eight Nobel Prize winners work at the lab during their careers, to invite others to hear about research at the lab.

“It was a very inspiring evening,” Stillman said.

Bruce Stillman. Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

Bruce Stillman, the CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, last week won the Dr. H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics, which is considered the most distinguished scientific prize from the Netherlands.

The prize, which has been awarded to 13 researchers who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, includes a $200,000 award and a crystal trophy.

Stillman earned the award, which began in 1964 and is given every two years in categories including Medicine, Environmental Sciences and History, for his decades of work on mechanisms involved in the replication, or copying, of eukaryotic DNA.

The understated Stillman, who was born and raised in Australia, expects he’ll put the prize money into a foundation, although he hasn’t thought much about it given the other concerns that dominate his time, including not only running his own lab amid the COVID-19 pandemic but also overseeing a facility where he has been the Director since 1994 and its CEO since 2003.

Stillman said the lab has had “extensive discussions” among the faculty about whether to pursue additional research fields on an ongoing basis to combat the current virus as well as any future public health threats.

While CSHL is not an infectious disease center, the facility does have a historical precedent for contributing to public health efforts during a crisis. Indeed, during World War II, the laboratory helped create a mutated strain of fungus that increased its yield of the drug penicillin.

At this point, CSHL does not have a high containment facility like Stony Brook University where it can handle highly infectious agents.

“We may have to have one here,” Stillman said. “The reality is there are tons of infectious diseases” and the lab might need to repurpose its scientific skills towards coming up with answers to difficult questions.

Even without such a Biosafety Level 3 designation, CSHL researchers have tackled ways to understand and conquer COVID-19. Associate Professor Mikala Egeblad has been exploring whether neutrophil extracellular traps, which are ways bodies fight off bacterial infections, are playing a role in blood clotting and severe respiratory distress.

These NETS may be “promoting severe symptoms in COVID,” Stillman said. Egeblad is working on a case study with several other collaborators who have focused on these traps. Egeblad is also studying the effectiveness of NETS as a biomarker for the most severe patients, Stillman said.

CSHL is also investigating a small molecule compound to see if it inhibits viral infection. Researchers including Assistant Professor Tobias Janowitz are about to participate in a combined Northwell Health-CSHL double blind study to determine the effectiveness of famotidine, which is the active ingredient in the ulcer-treating medication Pepcid.

The coronavirus treatment, which will include patients who don’t require hospitalization, would require a higher dose than for heartburn.

As a part of this study, the scientists will use a patient tracking system that has been used for cancer to determine the effectiveness of the treatment through patient reporting, without requiring laboratory tests.

Stillman is pleased with how CSHL has “repurposed ourselves quickly, as have many institutions around the world.” He highlighted the constructive interactions among scientists.

The public health crisis has “generated a different kind of behavior in science, where there’s a lot of interaction and cooperation,” Stillman said. The preprint journal BioRxiv, which CSHL operates, has had nearly 5,000 papers about COVID-19 since January. The preprints have “not only helped disseminate information rapidly [to the scientific community], but they are also “being used to determine policy by government leaders.”

Stillman urged scientists to apply the same analytical technique in reading preprinted research that they do with peer-reviewed studies, some of which have required corrections.

As for the government’s response, Stillman believes a retrospective analysis will provide opportunities to learn from mistakes. “I don’t think the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has done a very good job,” he said. He suggested that the well-documented problems with the roll out of testing as community transmission was increasing, was a “disaster.”

The CSHL CEO also said the balkanized medical system, in which every state has a different system and even some local communities have their own processes, creates inefficiencies in responding to a fluid and dangerous public health crisis.

Coordinating those efforts “could have been done very, very rapidly to develop a modern, clear [polymerase chain reaction] test of this virus and yet states and federal agencies had regulations about how these tests can be approved and controlled and regulated that are far too bureaucratic and did not set a national standard quickly,” he said.

He hopes agencies like the CDC, FDA and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority have better coordination. The country needs a national response, like it had after the Homeland Security effort following 9/11.

Optimistically, Stillman expects a therapeutic antibody will be available by the end of the summer to treat COVID-19. The treatment, which will use monoclonal antibodies, will likely be injectable and will be able to prevent infection for a month or two. These treatments could also help limit the severity of symptoms for people who have been infected.

Regeneron has taken the same approach with Ebola effectively. Stillman doesn’t think such treatments can be used with everybody in the world, which increases the need to develop a vaccine. Creating a safe vaccine, which could be available as early as next year, is a “massive, under-recognized undertaking.”

Between now and next year, a second wave of the virus is certainly possible and may be likely, given that other coronaviruses have been seasonal. 

“This happened with the influenza pandemic a century ago, so we have to be careful about this,” Stillman said. He believes that the medical community has learned how to treat severe patients, which should help mitigate the effects of a second wave in the United States. 

That may not be the case in developing countries, which is a “concern,” he said.

Photo by © Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

After two years of extensive renovation and with generous support from New York State, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s historic Demerec Laboratory was reborn as a state-of-the-art research facility. Governor Andrew Cuomo cut the ribbon for the building’s reopening on Oct. 30, celebrating how the state will benefit from this new chapter in CSHL research.

“It’s good for Long Island, it’s good for the economy, but also it is doing work that I believe will improve the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people. I believe this work will actually save lives and there is nothing more important than that,” Governor Cuomo said during his visit. “That is the work that the people in this facility are dedicated to and God bless them for that. The state is honored to be playing a small role today.”

The Demerec Laboratory, home to four Nobel laureates, has been both a bastion and compass point for genetics research in New York and the world. Its new research will focus on taking a more holistic approach to treating cancer and the disease’s impact on the entire body.

According to the CSHL’s website, the new center “will enable newly developed compounds to be refined by world-leading chemists to develop next-generation therapies. This research will form a basis for collaboration with private foundations and pharmaceutical companies, while advancing the development of new drugs. 

In addition, the center will support ongoing research activities aimed to develop therapeutics for breast cancer, leukemia, autism, obesity, diabetes and lung cancer. The primary goal of such research activities will include the development of advanced drug compounds targeting underlying biological pathways.” 

To prepare the Demerec building for 21st-century science, it had to be gutted, with extensive renovations of the basement and interior, while leaving the historic 1950s brutalist exterior largely unchanged.

“We really challenged ourselves to preserve the history of the building as much as possible,” said Centerbrook design firm architect Todd E. Andrews, who planned the renovation.

The result is a modern facility uniquely designed for a scientific approach that considers disease not as a stand-alone subject of study but as a complex system that focuses on the patient.

“Too often [scientists] are not looking at the patient and the system of the patient … even though there are obvious signs that we should be looking,” said Dr. Tobias Janowitz, one of the next generation of Demerec Lab scientists and research-clinicians dedicated to rethinking cancer medicine.

Other Demerec researchers will include Nicholas Tonks, who investigates relationships between diabetes, obesity and cancer, and Linda Van Aelst, a neuroscientist who is interested in how sleep and signals from the brain may be impacted by cancer. Semir Beyaz, who studies how a patient’s nutrition can affect cancer treatment, will also join the team.

While the Demerec Laboratory’s faculty hasn’t been finalized, the researchers will be working alongside the rest of the CSHL community — including 600 scientists, students and technicians — to create a distinctly collaborative and cross-disciplinary culture.

Governor Cuomo called the Demerec building and the larger CSHL campus “hallowed ground for scientific research,” after dedicating $25 million in 2017 toward the $75 million renovation and said he is confident the space and its scientists will deliver a new wave of scientific progress.

“We invested over $620 million statewide in life sciences with $250 million in Long Island alone in biotech. Why? Because we believe that is an economic cluster that is going to grow and that is going to create jobs and it already is,” the governor said. “I believe Long Island is going to be the next Research Triangle.“

Renovating a single research facility may seem like a small step toward the state’s goal, but this particular building has made Long Island a scientific hot spot once again.

“While the Demerec building is comparatively smaller than larger projects that the governor has initiated … it is arguably one of the most productive buildings in all of science,” said CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman. “This renovation allows us to really think about where the Lab will take things next. It will have, I hope, a global impact on the research community, especially in the biomedical sciences.

Pictured from left: Laurel Hollow Mayor Daniel DeVita, President of Long Island Association Kevin Law, Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling, President of Empire State Development Eric Gertler, Commissioner of Health for NYS Dr. Howard Zucker, CSHL President and CEO Bruce Stillman, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, CSHL Honorary Trustee Jim Simons, CSHL Chair of the Board of Trustees Marilyn Simons, Nassau County Supervisor Laura Curran, NYS State Assemblyman Chuck Lavine, NYS Assemblyman Steve Stern, NYS Senator Jim Gaughran and CSHL COO John Tuke.   Photo by © Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo


Bruce Stillman. Photo courtesy of CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

Bruce Stillman, the president and CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, was recently awarded the prestigious Canada Gairdner International Award for his contributions to research about the way DNA copies itself. The 60-year-old prize, which Stillman will receive in a ceremony in October and that he shares with his former postdoctoral fellow John Diffley, includes a financial award of $100,000 Canadian dollars that he can spend however he’d like.

A native Australian, Stillman, who has been at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory since 1979, recently shared his thoughts about the award, research at the lab and his concerns about science in society with Times Beacon Record News Media. 

How does it feel winning the Gairdner Award?

It’s one of the most prestigious awards in the life sciences in the world and it’s certainly a great honor to win it and to join the list of spectacular scientists in the history of the award. There are some really fantastic scientists who I very much admire who have received this award.

How does it relate to the research you’ve conducted?

The field of DNA replication and chromosome inheritance was recognized. It is something I’ve devoted my entire career to. There are a lot of people that have made important contributions to this field. I’m pleased to be recognized with [Diffley] who was my former postdoc. [It’s validating] that the field was recognized.

Has CSH Laboratory been at the cutting edge of discoveries using the gene-editing tool CRISPR?

Cold Spring Harbor didn’t discover CRISPR. Like many institutions, we’ve been at the forefront of applying CRISPR and gene editing. The most spectacular application of that has been in the plant field. Zachary Lippman, Dave Jackson and Rob Martienssen are using genetic engineering to understand plant morphogenesis and development, thereby increasing the yield of fruit. Hopefully, this will be expanded into grains and have another green revolution.

CSHL has also been making strides in cancer research, particularly in Dave Tuveson’s lab, with organoids.

Organoids came out of people studying development. Hans Clevers [developed organoids] in the Netherlands … Tuveson is at the forefront of that. The full promise hasn’t been realized yet. From what I’ve seen, we are quite excited about the possibility of using organoids as a tool to get real feedback to patients. It is rapidly moving forward with the Lustgarten Foundation and with Northwell Health.

What are some of the other major initiatives at CSHL?

The laboratory’s investment about 10 or 15 years ago in understanding cognition in the brain has paid off enormously. Neuroscientists here are at the forefront of understanding cognition and how the brain does computation in complicated decisions. [Scientists are also] mapping circuits in the brain. It took a lot of investment and kind of the belief that studying rodent cognition could have an impact on human cognition, which was controversial when we started it here, but has paid out quite well. At the same time, we are studying cognitive dysfunction particularly in autism. 

Any other technological advances?

There’s been a real revolution in the field of structural biology… [Researchers] have the ability to look at single biological molecules in the electron microscope. It shoots electrons through a grid that has individual biological molecules. The revolution, which was done elsewhere by many people actually, led to the ability to get atomic resolution structures of macro molecular complexes. 

Cold Spring Harbor invested a lot of money, well over $10 million to build a facility and staff a facility to operate this new technology. I’ve been working on this area for about 12, 13 years now … Our structural biologists here in neuroscience, including neuroscientists Hiro Furukawa and Leemor Joshua-Tor have really helped introduce a lot of new biology into CSHL.

What are some of the newer efforts at the lab?

One of the big new initiatives we started is in the field of cancer. As you know by looking around, there’s an obesity epidemic in the Western world. We started a fairly large initiative, understanding the relationship between obesity and cancer and nutrition, and we’re not unique in this. We’re going to have some significant contributions in this area. 

Cancer cells and the tumor affect the whole body physiology. The most severe [consequence] is that advanced cancer patients lose weight through a process called cachexia. We hired [new staff] in this new initiative, renovated a historic building, the Demerec building at a fairly substantial expense, which was supported by New York State. 

What will CSHL researchers study related to obesity?

We’re absolutely going to be focusing on understanding mostly how obesity impacts cancer and the immune system, then how cancer impacts the whole body physiology. Hopefully, once we start to understand the circuits, [we] will be able to intervene. If we can control obesity, we will by logic reduce cancer impact.

What worries you about society?

What worries me is that there is a tendency in this country to ignore science in policy decisions … The number of people not getting vaccinated for measles is ridiculous. There is this kind of pervasive anti-science, anti-technology view that a lot of Americans have. They want the benefits of science and everything that can profit for them. 

There are certain groups of people who misuse data, deliberately abuse misinformation on science to promote agendas that are completely irrational. One of the worst is anti-vaccination. … We should as a society have severe penalties for those who choose to go that route. They shouldn’t send their children to schools, participate in public areas where they could spread a disease that effectively was controlled. Imagine if polio or tuberculosis came back?

How is the lab contributing to education?

People need to act like scientists. It’s one of the reasons we have the DNA Learning Center, to teach people to think like scientists. If 99.99 percent of the evidence suggests [something specific] and 0.01 percent suggest something [else], you have to wonder whether those very small and vocal minority are correct.

Adrian Krainer in his lab. Photo by ©Kathy Kmonicek, 2016/CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

This Sunday, Adrian Krainer is traveling to California to visit with Emma Larson, a Middle Island girl whose life he helped save, and to see an actor who played the fictional super spy James Bond.

A professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Krainer is the recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, which noted Silicon Valley benefactors including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin financed seven years ago. Pierce Brosnan will host the event, which National Geographic will broadcast live starting at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

Dr. Adrian Krainer and Emma Larson. Photo from Diane Larson

Krainer will split the $3 million prize money with Frank Bennett, a senior vice president of research and a founding member of Ionis Pharmaceuticals. The duo helped develop the first treatment for spinal muscular atrophy, the leading genetic cause of death among infants, which affects 1 in 10,000 births.

Prior to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Ionis and Biogen’s treatment, which is called Spinraza, people with the most severe cases of this disease lost the ability to use their muscles and even to breathe or swallow. Many children born with the most severe symptoms died before they were 2 years old.

“No one deserves it more,” said Dianne Larson, whose 5-year-old daughter Emma has been in a trial for the drug Krainer helped develop since 2015. When Emma started the trial as a 2-year-old, she couldn’t crawl anymore. Now, she’s able to push herself in a wheelchair, stand and take steps while holding onto something. Emma refers to Krainer as the person who helped make “my magic medicine.”

People with medical needs “kind of take for granted that there’s a medicine out there,” Larson said. “You don’t think about the years of dedication and research and hours and hours and money it costs to do this.”

Bruce Stillman, president and chief executive officer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, said that this award was well deserved and was rooted in basic science. Krainer’s “insights were substantial and he realized that he could apply this unique knowledge to tackle SMA,” Stillman wrote in an email. “He did this with spectacular results.”

Dr. Adrian Krainer with the Larson family, Matthew, Diane and Emma. Photo from Diane Larson

Children with the most severe case of this disease had faced a grim diagnosis. “Now those children have a treatment that will keep them alive and greatly improve the prospects for a normal life,” Stillman added.

New York recently added SMA to its newborn screening test.

Krainer, who specialized in a process called RNA splicing during his research training, began searching for ways to help people with spinal muscular atrophy in 2000.

SMA mostly originates when the gene SMN1 has a defect that prevents it from producing the SMN protein,  called survival of motor neuron. This protein is important for the motor neurons, the nerve cells that control voluntary muscles.

As it turns out, people have a backup gene, called SMN2, which produces that important protein. The problem with this backup gene, however, is that it produces the protein in lower amounts. Additionally, RNA gene splicing leaves out a segment that’s important for the stability of the protein.

Looking at the backup gene, Krainer began his SMA work by seeking to understand what caused this splicing inefficiency, hoping to find a way to fix the process so that more function protein could be made from the SMN2 gene.

Collaborating with Bennett since 2004, Krainer developed and tested an antisense olignucleotide, or ASO. This molecule effectively blocked the binding of a repressor protein to the SMN2 transcript. By blocking this repressor’s action, the ASO enabled the correct splicing of the survival of motor neuron protein.

Emma Larson standing during her Mandarin lesson at Middle Country Public Library. Photo from Diane Larson

At first, Krainer tested the cells in a test tube and then in culture cells. When that worked, he went on to try this molecule in an SMA mouse model. He then worked with Ionis Pharmaceuticals and Biogen to perform the tests with patients. These tests went through hundreds of patients in numerous countries, as diseases like SMA aren’t limited by geographic boundaries.

“Everything worked” in the drug process, which is why it took a “relatively short time” to bring the treatment to market, Krainer said.

People who have worked with Krainer for years admire his character and commitment to his work.

Joe and Martha Slay, who founded the nonprofit group FightSMA, helped recruit Krainer to join the search for a treatment.

Joe Slay recalls how Krainer made an effort to meet with children with SMA. He recalls seeing Krainer during a pickup football game, running alongside children in wheelchairs, handing them the ball and tossing it with them.

Krainer brought his family, including his three children, to meet with the SMA community. The trip had a positive effect on his daughter Emily, who said it “subliminally had an impact on wanting to work in this field.” 

Currently a third-year resident in a combined pediatric neurology residency and fellowship program, his daughter is “very excited for him and proud.” She recalls spending Christmas holidays and New Years celebrations at the lab, where she met with his friends and co-workers.

Emily Krainer said a few people in her residency know about the role her father played in developing a treatment the hospital is employing.

The treatment is the “talk of child neurology right now,” she said.

Researchers hope the recognition for the value of basic research that comes with the breakthrough prize will have an inspirational effect on the next generation.

“The idea of prizes like this is to highlight to the public that scientists spend many years working without public recognition but make really important contributions to society,” Stillman suggested.

For Larson, the research Krainer did was key to a life change.

“To me, science is hope,” Larson said. “If we didn’t have this science, we wouldn’t have any hope,” adding that she would like her daughter to become a scientist someday.

Leemor Joshua-Tor. Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

Like many of the other talented and driven professionals at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Leemor Joshua-Tor often works far from the kind of spotlight that follows well-known actors or authors.

That changed in April and early May. First, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected her a member on April 11. Other members joining the academy this year include Carol Burnett, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, actor Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in the Hobbit films and Magneto in the X-Men movies, and Israeli writer David Grossman.

Then, on May 2, the National Science Foundation elected the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory professor and Howard Hughes medical investigator to join its ranks. “I got a huge amount of congratulatory emails from many friends, some of which I haven’t been in touch with for a while,” Joshua-Tor said. “It’s humbling.”

Joshua-Tor’s research covers a range of areas in structural and molecular biology. She works with RNA interference, where she focuses on how small molecules regulate gene expression or translation. She has also worked with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory President Bruce Stillman on the early stages of DNA replication.

Early this year, Joshua-Tor and Stillman published a paper in eLife Sciences in which they offered more details about the human origin recognition complex. Stillman suggested that Joshua-Tor was the “main driver” for the research, studying the structure of a protein he had isolated years ago. “I am not a structural biologist, but she is an outstanding one and together, we came up with a very satisfying result.”

The origin recognition complex begins the process of replication, recruiting a helicase, which unwinds DNA. It also brings in regulatory factors that ensure smooth timing and then other factors such as polymerase and a clamp that keeps the process flowing and ensures accurate copying of the genetic code. “We don’t know how ORC’s motor activity is used,” Joshua-Tor explained. “We don’t really know what it is on the DNA that the ORC likes to bind to.”

In the recent work, the scientists explored the ORC’s structure and tinkered with it biochemically to understand it. The ORC binds and hydrolyzes the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, in the same way a motor would, although it probably isn’t continuous. “It might use ATP hydrolysis to perform one sort of movement, perhaps a detachment,” Joshua-Tor suggested.

In the early stages of replication, ATP is necessary for the integrity of the ORC complex, as well as the helicase that gets recruited. “We knew from biochemistry that ORC bounds multiple ATP molecules, but we did not know precisely how,” Stillman explained in an email. “The structure told us. ORC does not open the DNA by itself, but loads a protein complex onto the DNA that, when activated, can open the DNA.” Stillman is working on that process now. The next step for the CSHL collaborators is to get a structure of human ORC bound to DNA.

In their recent work, the researchers characterized how mutations involved in ATP hydrolysis affect a condition called Meier-Gorlin syndrome. Of the mutations they characterized, one affects the ability to hydrolyze ATP. Patients with this syndrome have one copy of the gene with typical function and the other that doesn’t. This likely leaves the patient with half of the molecules to do the required job.

The misregulation of replication is often associated with cancer and is something Joshua-Tor and others consider when they conduct these studies.

ATP, meanwhile, is associated with all kinds of activities, including cell adhesion and taking down misfolded proteins. Many processes in the cell connect to these types of molecular machines.

In her research with RNA interference, she is studying how a microRNA called Let7 is produced. Let7 is involved in development. Before cells differentiate when they are stem cells, they make Let7 continuously and then destroy it. She is studying the pathway for this process. Let7 is absent from stem cells and in some cancers.

Interested in science and theater when she was young, Joshua-Tor grew up in Israel, where she participated in activities at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The institute has biology, biochemistry, chemistry, math, computer science and physics, as well as an archeology unit that didn’t exist when she was there. Later, when she was a graduate student, Joshua-Tor returned to the institute and became an instructor.

An important moment in her scientific development occurred when she was in seventh grade. She was learning about elements and she put each one on a card. She brought these cards to class to study them. Her mother gave her a container that had housed her perfumes, which created a positive association for chemistry every time she studied the elements.

Joshua-Tor was also interested in theater, where she was initially in shows and then became an assistant director. The researcher lives with her daughter Avery, who is 8 and attends the Jack Abrams Magnet School. The tandem have a Schnauzer named Charles Darwin. Her daughter is proud of her mother and tells “anyone that would listen” about the awards her mother recently won, Joshua-Tor said.

Joshua-Tor, whose lab now has 11 people, said she is excited for the opportunity to meet some of her fellow honorees this fall.

Stillman expressed pride in “all our scientists and especially when they make major discoveries and they receive such peer recognition,” he wrote in an email. Joshua-Tor is “one of our best, but we have many scientists who will go on to gain substantial peer recognition. This is her turn, at least for these two awards!”

From left, David Tuveson with Kerri Kaplan, the executive director and chief operating officer of the Lustgarten Foundation, and Sung Poblete, the CEO of Stand Up to Cancer. Photo courtesy of the Lustgarten Foundation

By Daniel Dunaief

Even as David Tuveson was recently fishing for tautog for dinner, he conducted conference calls on a cellphone while watching the clock before an afternoon meeting. A professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and a world-renowned expert in pancreatic cancer, Tuveson describes the research of some of the students in his laboratory as having considerable bait in the water.

The director of research for the Lustgarten Foundation, Tuveson recently assumed greater responsibility for a larger boat, when he was named director of the Cancer Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, taking over a role the lab’s president Bruce Stillman held for 25 years. The Cancer Center, which is one part of CSHL, will be in “great hands since Dave Tuveson has wide respect int he cancer community because of his research accomplishments and his talents in leading others,” Stillman explained in an email.

Stillman, who will continue to run his own lab and serve as the President and CEO of CSHL, described Tuveson as a “thought leader” and a “great scientist.” Tuveson and his team of 20 in his laboratory are approaching pancreatic cancer in several directions. They are searching for biomarkers for early detection, developing and testing drugs that preferentially target cancer cells and seeking to uncover the molecular pathways that turn a mutated gene, inflammation, or an illness into a tumor.

Tuveson, who has MD and PhD degrees, focuses on finding ways to use science to help patients. He will continue the Cancer Center’s mission to understand the fundamental causes of the disease, while adding some new strategies. He plans to develop nutrition and metabolism as new areas for the Cancer Center and will recruit “ a few outstanding faculty,” he explained in an email.

CSHL will also expand its skills in immunology and chemistry. Tuveson has dedicated himself and his laboratory to taking innovative approaches to a disease that had received only one-half of 1 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual research budget in 1999. That is up to 2 percent today, according to the Lustgarten Foundation, which is the largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research.

Tuveson and his team have become leaders in the developing field of organoids. By taking cells from a tumor or cyst, scientists can produce a smaller copy of the tumor from inside a partial, reproduced patient pancreas. The painstaking work enables researchers to look for the specific type of tumor in a patient, while it also provides a model for testing drugs that might treat the cancer. The technique of growing organoids has become so refined that researchers can create a structure that’s a mix of normal, healthy cells blended with the tumor.

Scientists can then take the resulting structure, called a chimera, and test the effectiveness of therapies in destroying cancers, while monitoring the side effects on healthy cells. Stillman believes Tuveson’s work with pancreas cancer organoids “is at the cutting edge of research in this area.” Tuveson’s lab is using organoids to study what Tuveson, for whom metaphors roll off the tongue as often as characters break into song in Disney movies, describes as kelp-like projections. Each cell has parts that project out from the membrane. His staff is looking for changes in the kelp.

Tuveson is encouraged by work that might help find a subtle protein shift, or changes in the structure of the kelp, as a telltale sign about the type of tumor a patient who is otherwise asymptomatic might have. Doctors might one day screen for these during annual physical exams. Other scientists are so interested in the potential benefits of these organoids that they are attending a training session in Tuveson’s lab that started early this month.

A post doctoral candidate in Tuveson’s lab, Christine Chio, is studying how reactive oxygen affects the growth and stability of cancer. In general, medical professionals have recommended antioxidants to protect health and prevent disease. In pancreatic cancer, however, antioxidants are necessary to keep cancer cells alive. An abundance of reactive oxygen can cause cancer cells to shut down.

“The irony is that cancer cells make their own anti-oxidants and are very sensitive to reactive oxygen — thus we use reactive oxygen to kill cancer cells,” Tuveson explained. Chio, Darryl Pappin, a research professor at CSHL, and several other scientists published their work this summer, in which they identified protein translation as the pathway protected from reactive oxygen species in cancer cells.

At the same time that Tuveson is overseeing the work searching for biomarkers and treatments in his lab, he is also encouraging other research efforts through his work with the Lustgarten Foundation. Started in 1998 when former Cablevision executive Marc Lustgarten developed pancreatic cancer, the Foundation invested $19.4 million in 2015 to pancreatic cancer research and is projected to invest $21 million in 2016.

The mission of the Foundation is to advance research related to the diagnosis, treatment and cure of pancreatic cancer. It also offers patient advice, information and a sense of community through events. Indeed, recently, as a part of a phase 2 clinical trial at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Center, the Foundation offered to provide a free genetic test for microsatellite instability, or MSI, to anyone who might benefit from it as a part of a diagnosis and treatment. MSI occurs in about 2 percent of pancreatic cancer patients. Those with this genetic characteristic responded to a particular type of treatment, called pembrolizumab. The study is still seeking to increase enrollment.

The Foundation is encouraged by the progress scientists like Tuveson have made. “We are hopeful about the future because we know that we have the most talented cancer researchers working on this devastating disease,” Kerri Kaplan, the President and Chief Operating Officer at the Lustgarten Foundation, explained in an email. “We are particularly optimistic about the organoid project and the implications it has for more effective treatments and the work being done on our ‘earlier’ detection program.”

Still, Tuveson and the Foundation, which received donations from 62,000 people in 2015, realize there’s a long way to go. “Pancreatic cancer is an incredibly complex and difficult disease which is why we need to stay focused on funding the most promising research,” Kaplan said.