Powerhouse Cancer Geneticists, Husband/Wife Team Named to Key Roles at the Methodist Hospital Research Institute

  • newswise-fullscreen Powerhouse Cancer Geneticists, Husband/Wife Team Named to Key Roles at the Methodist Hospital Research Institute

    Credit: The Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas

    Nancy Jenkins, PhD, and Neal Copeland, PhD, co-directors, cancer biology, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Houston, Texas

Newswise — An internationally-acclaimed husband and wife team that has identified hundreds of genes that cause cancer joins The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI) in Houston as the first luminary scholars recruited by Texas through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). They begin October 3.

Among the most-cited biomedical scientists in the world, Neal Copeland, Ph.D., and Nancy Jenkins, Ph.D., will direct basic research for TMHRI and the Methodist Cancer Center, serving as co-directors of cancer biology. The couple, both members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS), has identified genes associated with numerous cancers including leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, lung, breast and prostate. Their research proves that it is possible to model virtually any type of human cancer in mice.

“Neal and Nancy bring to Methodist and Houston the ability to decipher and characterize the genetic changes required to promote or sustain tumor formation,” said Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., TMHRI’s president and CEO. “Methodist has the ideal research environment that will help them translate the enormous knowledge database of these important cancer genes to treatment strategies for human cancer. We are altering the face of traditional academic medical research, and they will be a huge part of this change as it pertains to cancer research.”

Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 establishing CPRIT and authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. Methodist applied for a $15 million grant from CPRIT to further the couple’s work in analyzing the cancer genome. CPRIT’s board is expected to vote on the grant during a July board meeting.

"These outstanding researchers will take cancer genomic research to the next level, by integrating their novel technologies to bear on the driving causes of cancer,” said Dr. Jenny Chang, director of the Methodist Cancer Center. “Adding their expertise will catapult the Methodist Cancer Center into one of the world’s leading cancer genomic research hubs.”

The couple returns to the United States after spending five years at Singapore's A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research). Copeland was executive director of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), and Jenkins served as deputy director of IMCB's Genetics and Genomics Division.

Since meeting as postdoctoral fellows at Harvard Medical School more than 30 years ago, Copeland and Jenkins have worked together to model different types of human disease in mice, but the focus of their current research is exclusively cancer. Over the past three decades, they have co-authored more than 780 papers and been cited more than 30,000 times.

In their research to induce different types of human cancer in mice, Copeland and Jenkins discovered ways of manipulating the genetic structure of "Sleeping Beauty," a mutagenic transposon, a sequence of DNA that can move around to different positions within the genome of a single cell. In moving around, a transposon can induce mutations in cancer-causing genes. The transposon then serves as a molecular tag to identify the cancer-causing genes. With these cancer models, as well as recent advancements in cloning and sequencing technologies, they hope to better understand and devise more effective treatment strategies for various forms of human cancer.

“The addition of Drs. Copeland and Jenkins to our Research Institute is a major accomplishment toward Methodist’s vision of improving patient care through research,” said Ron Girotto, president and CEO, The Methodist Hospital System. “They will be translating science into new treatments for cancer that will directly benefit millions of patients.”

Copeland received his Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of Utah; Jenkins received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from Indiana University. Following their postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School, they joined The Jackson Laboratory before moving to the National Cancer Institute-Frederick where Copeland headed the molecular genetics of oncogenesis section and also served as director of the mouse cancer genetics program. Jenkins headed the molecular genetics of development section.

They have served on numerous scientific advisory and editorial boards and have consulted for several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Distinguished lectures include the Harvey Lecture at Rockefeller University and the G. Burroughs Mider Lecture at the National Institutes of Health.

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