David Solomon (MED ’12) gained national recognition for his research on the genetics of cancer last Friday when he won the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award.
The award, which is sponsored by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash., recognizes achievement in the study of biology. Solomon and 12 other recipients will present their work at a symposium being held at the center on May 4.
The award is a special recognition of Solomon’s years of continual research on a gene that can cause brain tumors and other types of cancer.
Two years ago, while working in a lab that studies brain tumors, Solomon discovered a gene whose mutation may account for the abnormal number of chromosomes found in virtually all types of cancer.
“I was doing … an analysis of brain tumor samples to identify new potential cancer genes [and] I stumbled upon a gene that appears to be important in the development of cancer by causing abnormal chromosome numbers,” Solomon said.
Solomon spent the next two years working on a paper about the gene, STAG2, which was eventually published in the prestigious journal Science in August 2011.
According to Todd Waldman, an associate professor at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center who mentored Solomon, the discovery is a critical step in cancer research.
“Early on in the discovery of the cancer gene, we knew it was a big deal. Once [Solomon] made the initial observation that the gene was mutated in a significant fraction of tumor samples, at that point, we knew the discovery was an important one,” Waldman said.
Solomon added that the discovery of the STAG2 gene is of particular importance because it mutates in a broad spectrum of human tumors, including the skin cancer melanoma and the bone cancer Ewing’s sarcoma.
“All cancers from breast cancer to colon cancer have an abnormal number of chromosomes. It is a fundamental feature of cancer biology. This discovery is a potential explanation for why that happens,” he said.
While Waldman lauded Solomon’s discovery, he added that much more about the subject remains undiscovered.
“It definitely is a major hurdle that has been overcome … [Solomon’s] discovery makes it possible for us to look for those novel therapeutics that could kill cancer cells that have the wrong number of chromosomes,” he said. “Still, there is a lot of work ahead.”